A nonwoody, single-stemmed plant. Flowers several, occurring toward the top of the stem, borne above the leaves. Petals white, sometimes pale lavender, fairly large. Plants in the mustard family (like this one) characteristically have 4 petals in a cross-shaped arrangement. Blooms March–May. Leaves in a whorl, midway on the plant stem, divided into 3 deeply incised sections that are pointed and coarsely toothed, giving a 5-lobed appearance. Root a small tuber with toothlike projections.
Similar species: There are 7 other species in the genus Cardamine in Missouri, all called "toothwort," "cress," or "bitter cress"; their flowers are white, pink or purple.