Toothwort

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Photo of toothwort plant with flowers
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Name
Edible
Scientific Name
Cardamine concatenata (formerly Dentaria laciniata)
Family
Brassicaceae (mustard)
Description

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.

Size
Height: to 16 inches.
Where To Find
image of Toothwort distribution map
Statewide, except for the southeast lowlands.
Occurs in rich wooded slopes, ravines, and valleys, never in large groups but quite common through woods in early spring. This plant can be grown in woodland gardens, wildflower gardens, or in naturalized areas. If you wish to include toothwort in your garden, make sure you get your plants from an ethical nursery.
This species used to be named Dentaria laciniata. You might see toothwort and some of its relatives listed in the genus Dentaria in older guidebooks.
The rhizomes of this plant are spicy and edible and can be eaten raw in salads or dried, ground, mixed with vinegar, and used like horseradish. Most people, however, enjoy toothwort as one of our early spring wildflowers.
Many animals gratefully nibble tender green plants in springtime. Toothwort and other woodland flowers require a forest habitat to survive, so they depend on the oaks, hickories, maples, and other trees around them.
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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!