Shepherd's Purse

Photo of shepherd’s purse plant and flowers
Safety Concerns
Scientific Name
Capsella bursa-pastoris
Brassicaceae (mustards)

Shepherds' purse is a many-stemmed annual with heart-shaped or triangular seed pods. Most people probably view it as a weed. Flowers many, along upper part of stems and their branches, minute, with 4 white, rounded petals. Blooms March–November. Basal leaves form a rosette and are deeply lobed, similar to dandelion but much smaller, to 4 inches long; stem leaves small, lance-shaped. Fruit 2-lobed, heart-shaped or triangular, formed lower on the stem while flowering continues above.

Height: to 2 feet.
Where To Find
image of Shepherd’s Purse distribution map
This European native occurs in waste places, roadsides, pastures, gardens, lawns, and almost any open or disturbed habitat. Like the common dandelion, this plant traveled with European explorers and settlers throughout the world. Because of its small size and shallow root system, it is not as troublesome a weed as some others. This is the only species in its genus, worldwide.

The young leaves and fruits are rich in vitamin C and are esteemed in salads. Poultry relish this plant, too! Many medicinal uses have been recorded for shepherd's purse, as well, and some herbalists value it today.

Today, you would have to look hard to find a sheep herder who uses a triangular bag shaped like the fruit of this plant, but the name goes back to such medieval fashions.

Shepherd’s purse has many adaptations that make it a successful "weed," a quick colonizer of disturbed soils: The flowers can self-fertilize, and the plant keeps blooming all year. A single plant can produce 90,000 seeds in its year of life. The seeds are tiny and sticky, which aids in their dispersal.
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Similar Species
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!