Descurainia pinnata (Tansy Mustard)

Plant Info
Also known as: Pinnate Tansy Mustard, Western Tansy Mustard
Family:Brassicaceae (Mustard)
Life cycle:annual, biennial
Habitat:sun; dry, sandy or rocky soil; roadsides, railroads, plains, prairies, outcrops, bluffs, gravel pits
Bloom season:May - July
Plant height:8 to 24 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Cluster type: flat Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] Elongating racemes 2 to 12 inches long of stalked flowers at the tips of branching stems, with a small, flattish cluster of flowers blooming at the tip and fruit forming below. Flowers are up to 1/8 inch across with 4 spreading to ascending, spoon-shaped, yellow petals alternating with 4 egg-shaped yellow sepals that are slightly shorter than the petals. In the center is a stout style surrounded by 6 yellow stamens about as long as the petals. Stalks are very slender, erect to ascending, and up to about 2/3 inch long. Sepals and flower stalks are variably covered in glandular hairs, sometimes non-glandular hairs.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: compound Leaf type: lobed

[photo of lower leaf] Leaves are once or twice pinnately compound, broadly lance-oblong in outline, basal and the lowest leaves stalked, up to 6 inches long and 2½ inches wide, feathery with numerous, deeply to shallowly lobed divisions, becoming smaller, stalkless, and less lobed as they ascend the stem. Surfaces and stalks are variably covered in glandular hairs, especially the leaf underside.

[photo of stem and upper leaves] Stems are erect, green to purple-tinged, sparsely to densely covered in glandular hairs, and usually branched in the upper plant but may be unbranched.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Flower stalks become ascending to widely spreading in fruit, usually forming an angle 60 degrees or less with the stem. Fruit is a straight to slightly curved, spreading to ascending pod called a silique, up to about ½ inch long, shorter than the stalk, slender but distinctly plumper than the stalk, and somewhat broader at the tip than the base (inconspicuously club shaped). Inside are 2 rows of 10 to 20 seeds each, with visible constrictions between the seeds.


Tansy Mustard is most often found in sandy or gravelly areas with soil disturbance, such as roadsides and along railroads, but can occur in less disturbed habitat as well. Very similar is the non-native Herb Sophia (Descurainia sophia), which is most easily distinguished by the lack of glandular hairs and longer, more slender fruit. Also similar is Richardson's Tansy Mustard (D. incana), a species not seen in Minnesota since 1936, which is hairy but not glandular, has once pinnately lobed leaves, and mostly erect fruits, appressed to the stem. Depending on the reference, there are between 4 and 10 subspecies of D. pinnata; of the 4 most commonly recognized, 3 are limited to the southwestern or southeastern US, with subsp. brachycarpa widespread in North America, including Minnesota, and described above. Distinguishing characteristics with the other 3 subspecies are overall hairiness, glandular or not, whether or not stems branch at the base, and the angle of the fruit stalk relative to the stem.

Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓

Map of native plant resources in the upper midwest

  • Morning Sky Greenery - Native Prairie Plants
  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water
  • Minnesota Native Landscapes - Your Ecological Problem Solvers
  • Spangle Creek Labs - Native orchids, lab propagated
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land

More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Dakota and Renville counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.