Mustards of the Mountains!

hesperis habit

Hesperis plant habit

Last week I talked about Garlic Mustard, a garden foe, a plant in the mustard family of plants. I described the distinctive characteristics of this common plant family, which is such an important component of the local vegetation here in the Catskills. Plants in this family have a distinctive 4-petaled cross-shaped flower. This post features three other mustard plants blooming now.






Hesperis matronalis is known locally as false phlox or wild phlox because of its superficial similarity to the garden phlox, and its strong evening fragrance. It is also known as Dame’s Rocket. It escaped from gardens and has become naturalized throughout the Catskills region. Its flowers are usually pink but sometimes white.hesperisleafhesperis13






One characteristic useful in identifying plants in the mustard family is the shape of the seed pod or fruit, which appear on the stem below the flowers. Garlic Cress has long, skinny or linear seed pods, but some of the mustards have seed pods which are large or have interesting shapes.wintercressseedpd







wintercresshabitAnother plant blooming now is Winter Cress (Barbarea vulgaris) with yellow flowers, leaves shaped like the leaves of the garden radish, and linear seed pods like Garlic Cress. It is being developed as a biocontrol agent of the diamondback moth, a pest of vegetable crops in the mustard family like broccoli and cauliflower.wintercressleaf wintercress06 The moth lays its eggs on the Winter Cress but the caterpillar isn’t able to tolerate the biochemicals in Winter Cress, and doesn’t survive.






pennycresshabitAlso blooming now is Field Pennycress (Thlaspi arvense). It has small white flowers, and very distinctive seed pods, round, flat (hence the “penny” name) and notched at the tip. It is of commercial interest because its oil-rich seed pods are being developed as a source of renewable energy.pennycress15





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