What Is Hairy Bittercress?

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As gardeners, we're no strangers to the relentless battle against weeds, and one persistent adversary that often creeps into our landscapes is hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta). In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into what hairy bittercress is, how to identify it, its life cycle, the different types of it, and effective methods for prevention and treatment.

Identifying Hairy Bittercress

Hairy bittercress is a winter annual weed in the mustard family (Brassicaceae). Despite its diminutive appearance, it can quickly spread and become a nuisance in lawns, gardens, and other cultivated areas. Hairy bittercress is characterized by its small, compound leaves, tiny white flowers, and elongated seedpods that burst open when ripe, dispersing seeds in all directions. When looking for hairy bittercress in your yard, keep in mind that this weed is a low-growing plant, typically reaching only 4-8 inches in height. Here are some key features to help you spot it:

  • Leaves: Arranged in a rosette at the base, the leaves are deeply lobed and have a slightly hairy texture.
  • Flowers: Tiny white flowers with four delicate petals bloom in clusters atop slender stalks.
  • Seedpods: After flowering, the plant produces long, slender seedpods that explode when touched, flinging seeds far and wide.
  • Hairy Stems: As the name suggests, the stems of hairy bittercress are covered in fine hairs.

Other Types Of Bittercress

Hairy bittercress belongs to the mustard family (Brassicaceae), which includes many familiar vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. There are several other bittercress varieties, but hairy bittercress is the most common. Other types include field bittercress (with smaller, rounder leaves) and marsh bittercress (which prefers wet environments).

Life Cycle Of Hairy Bittercress

Hairy bittercress is a master of adaptation. It thrives in cool, moist conditions and can germinate from seed year-round, even surviving mild frosts. Here's a breakdown of its life cycle:

  • Germination: Seeds can lie dormant in the soil for years, waiting for the right conditions to sprout.
  • Growth: Once germinated, hairy bittercress grows quickly, forming a basal rosette of leaves.
  • Flowering: It can flower within just a few weeks of germination, producing copious amounts of seeds.
  • Seeding: The seedpods explode readily, dispersing seeds over a wide area.
  • Repeat: The entire cycle can be completed in as little as six weeks, allowing for rapid spread.

Preventing & Treating Hairy Bittercress

Prevention and treatment are key components of managing hairy bittercress infestations. It is always best to contact a professional landscaper near you for the best tips on weed prevention in your particular area. Here are some strategies to consider:


By understanding the characteristics and life cycle of hairy bittercress, you can make informed decisions about managing it in your garden. Remember, prevention is key, but even if it takes hold, you might discover a surprising culinary use for this determined little plant.

Preventing hairy bittercress from taking root involves common practices that also keep out many other pesky weeds. By following these methods, you can keep this weed from ever making a home on your lawn. 

  • Mulching: Applying a thick layer of mulch to garden beds can help suppress weed growth, including hairy bittercress.
  • Early Detection: Regularly inspect your landscape for signs of hairy bittercress and remove any plants before they can produce seeds.
  • Cultural Practices: Maintaining healthy, dense turf or garden plants can help prevent hairy bittercress from establishing a foothold.


Thankfully, hairy bittercress is fairly simple to treat. The following methods are tried and tested ways to treat any hairy bittercress that invaded your lawn.

  • Hand-Pulling: Hand-pulling hairy bittercress can be an effective control method for small infestations. Be sure to remove the entire plant, including the roots, to prevent regrowth.
  • Herbicide Application: Selective herbicides labeled for broadleaf weed control can be used to target hairy bittercress while minimizing harm to desirable plants.
  • Post-Emergent Control: Applying herbicides to hairy bittercress shortly after germination can help prevent seed production and reduce future infestations.

Surprisingly, hairy bittercress is edible! The young leaves have a peppery flavor and can be enjoyed raw in salads, sandwiches, or stir-fries. Harvest them before flowering for the best taste and texture. So, while hairy bittercress may be a tenacious weed, it can also be a source of fresh, homegrown greens for the adventurous gardener, and harvesting/pulling this weed will improve the health of your garden at the same time!