Nature Table: Shepherd’s Purse

This widespread wildflower is found on bare or waste ground and is a common garden weed. 

It’s a member of the Brassica or cabbage family which has a huge number of species and there are several related ones that look very similar, with a tough stalk rising from a flat rosette of leaves and carrying a cluster of very small white flowers at the top.

Apart from the lobed leaves at the base, the stem also bears small, toothed leaves that wrap around it. What makes it relatively easy to distinguish from the lookalikes are it’s seedpods which are flat and heart-shaped. They are supposed to look like old fashioned leather purses and give the species its common English name.

The other species that are confusingly similar have long, thorn-shaped seed pods. Luckily Shepherd’s Purse flowers, and produces seed pods, in every month of the year, whatever the weather, so this diagnostic feature is nearly always available. This is a plant for gardeners to look out for as the weeding season approaches.


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