Cochlearia officinalis Cochlearia officinalis Cochlearia officinalis

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Danish Scurvy­grass

Cochlearia danica

  • Written also: Danish Scurvy-grass, Danish Scurvy Grass
  • Family: Mustard Family – Brassicaceae (Cruciferae)
  • Growing form: Annual (perhaps sometimes perennial) herb.
  • Height: 3–15 cm (1.2–6 in.), in fruiting stage up to 30 cm (12 in.). Stem quite limp–ascending.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), white–reddish, approx. 0.5 cm (0.2 in.) wide; petals 4, approx. 3 mm (0.12 in.) long. Sepals 4. Stamens 6, of which 4 long and 2 short. Gynoecium fused, a single carpel. Inflorescence a raceme, extending in fruiting stage.
  • Leaves: Alternate, basal leaves long-stalked, stem leaves short-stalked. Blade glabrous, slightly fleshy, basal leaves kidney-shaped–widely triangular, stem leaves quite elliptic–cordate–triangular.
  • Fruit: Many-seeded, elliptic–ovate, oval, 3–5 mm (0.12–0.2 in.) long silicula. Stalk approx. 5 mm (0.2 in.), ascending oblique–spreading.
  • Habitat: Sandy, gravelly and stony sea-shores, crevices, patches of meadow on islets, rocks that birds sit on.
  • Flowering time: May–July(–August).

Danish scurvygrass grows in Finland on the Åland Islands and the Turku Archipelago, along coastline in the province of Uusimaa and on the islands of Ulko-Tammio and Haapasaari near Kotka. Most of its stands can be found on the strips of grass along coastal rocky outcrops, and further from the sea it grows around bird nesting sites. It is most luxuriant and abundant in the southern parts of its habitat, but probably the most important factor regarding habitat is that it likes a mild, damp maritime climate.

Genus Cochlearia takes its name from the Latin word cochlear, which means ’spoon’ and refers to the shape of the leaves. The ‘scurvygrass’ name was actually used by herbalists long before the current scientific naming system was developed, and it has been used medicinally for hundreds of years, especially to treat scurvy, which is caused by a lack of vitamin C. Ancient Finns suffered from deficient diets, especially towards the end of the long winter, and it was important for sailors too. Part of Danish scurvygrass’s leaves stay green throughout the winter and juicy new ones grow as soon as the snow melts. When the leaves are rubbed they emit a strong fragrance like mustard or garden cress due to the mustard oils that the plant contains.

Common Scurvygrass

Cochlearia officinalis

Common scurvygrass is mainly peculiar to Arctic seashores, although it grows outside its main habitat in Finland beside the rivers Utsjoki and Teno. It differs from Danish scurvygrass in that its uppermost stem leaves are stalkless and amplexicaul.

Other species from the same family

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