Annual with densely hairy stems, much branched toward top. Flowers typical of the mustard family, with 4 small, white petals; arising from the many upper branches. Blooms April–June. Basal leaves dandelion-like with rounded tops, short; stem leaves alternate, ascending, about 1½ inches long, entire or crenate (shallowly toothed), clasping the stem, and having 2 pointed "ears" (auricles). Seedpods nearly round, fairly large (technically called silicles), with 2 seeds each; the fruits are ornamental due to their quantity. Pepper grass in fruit looks like a candelabra. The plant looks grayish due to its fine hairs.
Height: usually 10–18 inches.
Where To Find
A native of Europe and Asia that is widely naturalized on our continent. Occurs in fields, pastures, waste places, roadsides, railroads, and other disturbed places.
The seeds of various types of field cresses (genus Lepidium) have been used as a flavoring for meat, salads, and soups. Seed-eating pet birds such as canaries also relish the seeds. Other historic uses include various medicinal applications, with varying degrees of effectiveness.
Several types of wild birds eat the seeds, and insects visit the flowers. Small, annual plants are important colonizers of disturbed ground, binding the soil with their roots and breaking the force of raindrops with their leaves, preventing erosion. They prepare the soil for other plants.
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!