This time of year we see bittercress (Cardamine spp.) in gardens around the Bay Area. It is related to the Arabidopsis thaliana “research cress” that is used around the world in genetic plant research.
There are several species that are difficult to distinguish. If it’s blooming now, in January-March, it’s probably hairy bittercress (C. hirsuta). If it blooms in early summer it could be little bittercress (C. oligosperma). There are a couple of other less common varieties. All of them are small, cute, and totally harmless.
Although hairy bittercress is native to Europe, in my experience it is not at all invasive. You might read other opinions though!
No matter whether you find them invasive or not, please don’t spray herbicides, as some authors suggest.
Instead, may I suggest you eat them? They are small, brightly flavored, and excellent as a flavor enhancer in salads. All parts of the plant are edible.
These tiny gems are always welcome in my gardens. They need moist, nearly bare ground to grow, and are often seen in shady corners where the moist ground has recently been slightly disturbed. Their sweet little flowers are tiny and inconspicuous, but their exploding seed pods are extremely cool.
As you might expect, bittercress tastes fairly bitter. But chop a few of these miniature leaves into a micro-salad for a nice little extra bite of sharpness. They are high in vitamins and very good for you, as long as you don’t spray refined chemicals in your garden.
By the time they start looking like the mature plants surrounding the pretty rock in the picture below, they are past edible. I generally pull them out at this stage, enjoying the mini-explosions of their ripe seed pods, spreading more seeds of this delicious little salad enhancement all over my welcoming garden.