[Market-farming] What is this plant?

Marlin Burkholder glenecofarm at planetcomm.net
Fri Nov 21 20:00:22 EST 2003

Several years ago I noticed an interesting plant growing wild in a mixed hay
field on my farm.  In ensuing years it appeared in garden beds and various
other places where I had tilled and cultivated the previous season.  Here is
a description:

* Plant germinates and grows during the winter months and matures in the
late winter and early spring in zone 6.
* Young plants appear as a rosette form similar to dandelion.  The center of
the crown has a purplish color on young plants.  The crown thickens as the
plant matures to a green leafy mound about 5-6 inches in diameter and about
2 inches high.
* There are 5-9 slightly scalloped round leaflets about the size of a
fingernail and smaller on each leaf.  The leaf petiole is thin and delicate.
* The plant in preflorescence has a mild cress flavor which I find to be
absolutely delightful.  When it matures in February and March it sends up a
spray of delicate white flowers and the flavor becomes more pungent.

This plant is obviously a member of the cress family, but it does not fit
the description of the other wild cresses that I am familiar which grow in
this area, watercress, dry land cress, winter cress, pepper weed, etc.  I
have grown several kinds of garden cress, cressida, broad leaf cress,
wrinkled crinkled cress, etc. which I love but they all behave differently
than my mystery plant.

The small delicate leaves, the nice mild flavor, and the overall appearance
(beautiful) of the plant all suggest to me that it is edible and that that
it would work spendidly as a garnish or even a mesclun mix ingredient in a
$10 salad (maybe $5.00 :>) ).  I've thought many times of approaching high
end chefs with this plant but am reluctant to do so until I have it
positively identified.

I have searched though various wild plant, weed, and herb identification
books I have access to and have even looked on  the USDA's "plant reference"
wbsite (1000's of listings) but have yet to find a description which
satisfies me.  I have looked at scientific names like "Thlaspi,
Lepidium,Aribidopsis, Rorippa, Arabis, and Cardamine" til I"m bug eyed.  My
best guesses are: Spring Cress, Pepper Cress, or Penny Cress.  I'm going to
take a big stab and guess "Cardemine Bulbosa" (Spring cress, a variety of
Bitter Cress) as my very best guess.  I don't like the name or the picture I
have all that well though.

I had some sort of wild cress to pop up in a mesclun bed in my hoophouse a
year or two ago that I thought was it but it ended up having a more
sawtoothed leaf resembling chicory or dandilion and a taproot, so I
eventually decided it was closest to dryland cress.  Then I discovered a few
of my delightful mystery plants growing in one corner and in the drainage
ditch along the side of the hoophouse.  It looks like this plant likes moist
soil.  I usually first see the plants growing in late December or January
but this year I have found a bunch growing in a post harvest cornfield in
early November.  I'll be watching them.

I'd be interested in what anyone knows about this one.

Marlin Burkholder

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