Little Western Bittercress — Cardamine oligosperma

This little flower showed up early April in our backyard, in an untamed corner of the yard that really wants to be a sand dune. But then the weed eater came through and mowed most of them down, and of course, that all happened before I identified it. A few weeks later, we were on the shores of Coffenbury Lake in Fort Clatsop State Park, and I observed these little clusters of white bursting across a sandy embankment.

At the time, I didn’t realize it was the same thing as what I’d seen in the backyard. Later in the day though, things clicked and I realized it was the same plant. I procured a decent specimen from the backyard that had escaped the weed eater’s wrath as well.

Little Western Bittercress, Cardamine oligospermaIdentifying it was a little tricky. My trusty resource, “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast”, did not provide an easy match.

However, the plant presented mustard-like characteristics: four-petal flowers growing in a cluster, and long, somewhat barren stems. The more mature plant from my backyard also had started growing triangular seed packets. Flowers and the lake and the backyard all presented a light, sweet, honey-like scent.

What made it difficult to identify is that it was clear that it was a bittercress, but there are a number of potential matches that have few differentiating characteristics. After several inconclusive searches, I turned to a comprehensive report developed in the 80s by Alfred M. Wiedemann that details out the modern history and ecology of the North Coast’s dunes. Among the exhaustive list of identified plants was Little Western Bittercress.

Little Western Bittercress — Cardamine oligosperma The specimen I located had few leaves, most of which were growing in a basal (circular/spiraling) pattern around the base. Calphotos delivered enough images to confirm the match and the notion that the plant grows differently in different micro-environments.

Its basal, deeply divided leaves feature a broad, spade-shaped tip and show no hair, which would indicate another kind of bittercress, so I’m sticking with my identification. Per “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast”, there is a chance that it could be Brewer’s bittercress, which it describes as lacking any tubers and growing near or in water, but there seems to be few credible sources online to confirm or deny this potential identity.

Little Western Bittercress — Cardamine oligospermaSince both specimen were growing in fine sand, my assumption is that the plants suffer from malnutrition, hence, they sprout fewer leaves so that they can produce seeds.

Wiedemann, A.M. 1984. The ecology of Pacific Northwest coastal sand dunes: a community profile. U.S. Fish Wild7 . Serv. FWS/BBS-84/04. 130 pp. Page 109.

Altland, J. (n.d.). Weed Management In Nursery Crops. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from Oregon State University, North Willamette Research & Extension Center.

Siegmund, W., & Giblin, D. (n.d.). Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

McDonald, G. (2008, March 27). Calphotos Photo Database. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from University of California, Berkeley

Pojar, J., MacKinnon, A., & Alaback, P. B. (1994). Revised Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska. Redmond, WA: Lone Pine Pub. Page 146.


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