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Coralroot Bittercress

Cardamine bulbifera

  • Name also: Coral-wort, Coral-root, Coralroot Bitter-cress
  • Latin synonym: Dentaria bulbifera
  • Family: Mustard Family – Brassicaceae (Cruciferae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock long, thick, covered with swollen, scale-like leaves.
  • Height: 30–60 cm (12–25 in.). Stem unbranched, glabrous–sparsely haired. Blackish brown–dark purple bulbils in upper axils.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), pink–purplish, approx. 2–3 cm (0.8–1.2 in.) wide; petals four, 12–16 mm (0.48–0.64 in.) long. Sepals 4. Stamens usually 6, of which 4 long and 2 short. Gynoecium fused, a single carpel. Inflorescence a compact, hemispherical, almost umbellate, raceme, extending in fruiting stage.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked. Lower leaves pinnate with 2–3 pairs, leaflets with slightly toothed margins, glabrous, with hairy margins, upper leaves entire, lanceolate, sometimes with entire margins.
  • Fruit: Many-seeded, opening lengthwise, slim, approx. 3 cm (1.2 in.) long, quite erect siliqua. Stalk approx. 15 mm (0.6 in.) long. Siliquae often fail to develop.
  • Habitat: Hazel woods, coppices.
  • Flowering time: (May–)June.

Coralroot bittercress flowers among the undergrowth in broad-leaved forests early in the spring before trees and bushes have grown their leaves and cast their shadow across the forest floor. The plant’s buds are already well-developed by the preceding spring to that it can flower early, when there is still abundant light. The flowers are large and colourful, but compact. The inflorescence is rather modest. The flower is probably not a priority for the plant because they rarely develop seeds.

Coralroot bittercress spreads mainly vegetatively via the dark bulbils that form in its upper axils. These give rise to its scientific name bulbifera, ’bearing a bulb’. Bulbils fall from the plant and take root in the soil and develop into new plants in the mould of their mother-plant. Once coralroot bittercress has established itself it can spread quickly via its fast-growing rootstock. The surface of the rootstock has tooth-like scales. A new plant is born when a part of the rootstock breaks off from the whole.

Coralroot bittercress is only common in Finland on the Åland Islands. It becomes rarer on the south-western archipelago and grows on the mainland only in a few places in the most south-western parts. Its easternmost stand is in Kirkkonummi. Coralroot bittercress does not look much like other bittercresses and is sometimes classed in its own genus Dentaria. Its unique appearance makes it one of the easier Mustard Family plants to identify in Finland.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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