30 July 2014
Here’s a pretty plant that grows in ugly places.
Peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum) is a native edible member of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family that occurs naturally in North and Central America. Sometimes it’s cultivated for its peppery taste. The young rosette leaves taste like mild arugula and the round flat seed pods, when chewed, are a substitute for black pepper.
However most of us know this plant — if we notice it at all — for its indomitable attitude toward degraded habitat. It will grow almost anywhere, a trait that has given it the status of “Weed.”
I found this one growing from a crack in the sidewalk of the Greenfield Bridge.
Though one could eat the seed pods from a roadside specimen, don’t do it! The soil next to a busy road is contaminated with toxic metals from car and truck exhaust. Plants in the Brassicaceae family are such good hyperaccumulators of metals that they can be used to clean up toxic top soil. This roadside plant is full of toxins.
If you decide to taste peppergrass, look for a plant that’s in good clean soil far from the road.
(photo by Kate St. John)