White brassicas with pronged seed pods

Shepherd's-purse Shepherd's Cress Perennial Candytuft Perennial Candytuft

What are they?

This page covers members of the brassica family that typically grow less than 50cm in height and have white flowers. They all share the same general appearance of four-petalled, white flowers that are followed by short seed pods that may be either flattened evenly in one plane, or have upturned edges, making them rather like little shovels. All have tips that are clearly pointed with either one, two or three points, or spikey projections. For identification purposes, it is wise to wait until seed capsules have started to develop, as this will help to narrow your search.

Where are they found?

This is a group of only loosely related plants, so there is much variation in the habitat choices, though most are plants of urban habitats and disturbed ground. However, the habitat can be a valuable aid to identification for some species, so be sure to check these details in the individual species notes below.

Identification

All these plants have rather distinctive seed capsules and attention to the shape of these, together with leaf and flower details should help to identify the species.



Common Shepherd's-purse      Capsella bursa-pastoris

An ancient introduction of disturbed ground, widespread and often abundant in arable areas, gardens and other bare ground. Flowers more or less throughout the year. Readily identifiable by its basal rosette of sharply pinnate leaves and distinctive, heart-shaped seed capsules with parallel or slightly convex sides.

Common Shepherd's-purse Common Shepherd's-purse Common Shepherd's-purse Common Shepherd's-purse
Flowers
Basal leaves
Leaves
Leaves
Common Shepherd's-purse Common Shepherd's-purse
Seed capsule
Seed capsules


Pink Shepherd's-purse      Capsella rubella

Introduced from southern Europe. A rare casual of open places but peristing only at a single fenland site in Cambridgeshire. Despite the name, the pink flush often present on the flower buds is not completely reliable as an identification feature. This plant differs from Shepherd's-purse in its shorter petals (not much longer than the sepals) and in the concave sides to its seed capsules.

Pink Shepherd's-purse Pink Shepherd's-purse Pink Shepherd's-purse Pink Shepherd's-purse
Habit
Flowers
Lower stem leaf
Seed capsule with
concave sides


Shepherd's Cress      Teesdalia nudicaulis

An annual of open, sandy soil being mostly confined to Breckland and the Suffolk Sandlings, with a few isolated records from sandy soil elsewhere. Flowers April to June. A tiny plant and thus rather easily overlooked. Once found, the assymetrical flowers with two lower petals larger than the upper two, the shovel-shaped seed capsules and the neatly round-lobed leaves make a diagnostic combination.

Shepherd's Cress Shepherd's Cress Shepherd's Cress Shepherd's Cress
Habit
Flowers
Basal leaf
Seed capsules


Perfoliate Penny-cress      Microthlaspi perfoliatum

A rare native in the Cotswolds, but in East Anglia only recorded once in Suffolk, as an introduction from the continent. Flowers March to May. Flowers rarely open fully; stem leaves clasping at the base. Rather similar to Shepherd's-cress in its seed capsules, but a taller plant (to 20cm in height) and with distinctive, arrow-shaped leaves that clasp the stem.

Perfoliate Penny-cress Perfoliate Penny-cress Perfoliate Penny-cress Perfoliate Penny-cress
Flowers
Stem leaf
Seed capsules
Seed capsules


Perennial Candytuft      Iberis sempervirens

Introduced from southern Europe as a garden rockery plant and rarely escaping into the wider countryside on walls and dry banks. Flowers April to June. An evergreen, perennial species, more or less becoming a woody sub-shrub over time. Leaves are deep, emerald green and the whole plant becomes covered in brilliant white flowerheads in late spring.

Perennial Candytuft Perennial Candytuft Perennial Candytuft Perennial Candytuft
Habit
Flowers
Leaves
Seed capsules


Small Candytuft      Iberis amara

Introduced from southern Europe as a garden annual and more recently a component of so-called 'wildflower mixes' that occasionally get scattered along roadsides and in other public places. Flowers July to September. A short-lived annual, differing from Evergreen Candytuft in its smaller, annual growth, more elongate heads of flowers, well-toothed leaves and more rounded seed capsules.

Small Candytuft Small Candytuft Small Candytuft Small Candytuft
Habit
Flowers
Leaf
Seed capsules