I visited my sister last week and she invited me to look over a bare garden bed in her backyard in which she had sown several kinds of seeds. Being a normal sort of person who doesn’t research seedling identification, she didn’t know if what was sprouting was “anything,” or if it was just weeds.
Unfortunately, it was the latter. Mainly: hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta).
I think hairy bittercress is pretty neat. Technically, it’s edible, with a slightly peppery taste like its mustard relatives. I also have to admire (reluctantly) how the ripe seedpods explode when disturbed, shooting seeds several feet away, attaching to clothing and fur for easy, wide dispersal. To have any hope of eradicating an outbreak of hairy bittercress in your yard, be sure and start early in the spring before the seedpods are ready to burst, because the act of weeding them once they are primed and ready to shoot will only spread them further.
When I first identified hairy bittercress, I wondered why the name “hairy,” because the leaves are smooth and not furry like I expected something called hairy to look like. Then, I looked at an extreme close-up photo and saw tiny hairs on the edges of the leaves. Mystery solved.
Hairy bittercress leaves are small, especially when they are young and tender, so I would never grow them on purpose, but it’s good to know you can eat them in a pinch.