Mustard Family

Shepherd’s Purse; Mother’s Heart

Capsella Bursa-pastoris

Flowers—Small, white, in a long, loose raceme, followed by triangular and notched (somewhat heart-shaped) pods, the valves boat-shaped and keeled. Sepals and petals 4; stamens 6; 1 pistil. Stem: 6 to 18 in. high, from a deep root. Leaves: Forming a rosette at base, 2 to 5 in. long, more or less cut (pinnatifid), a few pointed, arrow-shaped leaves also scattered along stem and partly clasping it.

Preferred Habitat—Fields, roadsides, waste places. Flowering Season—Almost throughout the year. Distribution—Over nearly all parts of the earth.

From Europe this little low plant found its way, to become the commonest of our weeds, so completing its march around the globe. At a glance one knows it to be related to the alyssum and candytuft of our gardens, albeit a poor relation in spite of its vaunted purses—the tiny, heart-shaped seed-pods that so rapidly succeed the flowers. What is the secret of its successful march over the face of the earth? • Like the equally triumphant chickweed, it is easily satisfied with unoccupied waste land, it avoids the fiercest competition for insect trade by prolonging its season of bloom far beyond. that of any native flower, for there is not a month in the year when one may not And it even in New England in sheltered places.

Black Mustard Brassica nigra

Flowers—Bright yellow, fading pale, 1/4 to 1/2 in. across, 4-parted, in elongated racemes; quickly followed by narrow, upright 4-sided pods about in. long appressed against the stem. Stem: Erect, 2 to 7 ft. tall, branching. Leaves: Variously lobed and divided, finely toothed, the terminal lobe larger than the 2 to 4 side ones.

Preferred Habitat—Roadsides, fields, neglected gardens. Flowering Season—June—November. Distribution—Common throughout our area; naturalized from Europe and Asia.

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field: which indeed is less than all seeds; but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”

Commentators differ as to which is the mustard of the parable—this common Black Mustard, or a rarer shrub-like tree (Salvadora Persica), with an equivalent Arabic name, a pungent odor, and a very small seed. Inasmuch as the mustard which is systematically planted for fodder by Old World farmers grows with the greatest luxuriance in Palestine, and the comparison between the size of its seed and the plant’s great height was already proverbial in the East when Jesus used it, evidence strongly favors this wayside weed. Indeed, the late Doctor Royle, who endeavored to prove that it was the shrub that was referred to, finally found that it does not grow in Galilee.

Now, there are two species which furnish the most powerfully pungent condiment known to commerce; but the tiny dark brown seeds of the Black Mustard are sharper than the serpent’s tooth, whereas the pale brown seeds of the White Mustard, often mixed with them, are far more mild. The latter (Brassica alba) is a similar, but more hairy, plant, with slightly larger yellow flowers.

Its pods are constricted like a necklace between the seeds.

The coarse Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale with rigid, spreading branches, and spikes of tiny pale yellow flowers, quickly followed by awl-shaped pods that are closely appressed to the stem, abounds in waste places throughout our area. It blooms from May to November, like the next species.

Another common and most troublesome weed from Europe is the Field or Corn Mustard, Charlock or Field Kale (Brassica arvensis) found in grain fields, gardens, rich waste lands, and rubbish heaps. The alternate leaves, which stand boldly out from the stem, are oval, coarsely saw-toothed, or the lower ones more irregular, and lobed at their bases, all rough to the touch, and conspicuously veined.