(Brassica nigra) Mustard family

Flowers - Bright yellow, fading pale, 1/4 to 1/2 in. across,

4-parted, in elongated racemes; quickly followed by narrow

upright 4-sided pods about 1/2 in. long appressed against the

stem. Stem: Erect, 2 to 7 ft. tall, branching. Leaves: Variously

lobed and divided, finely toothed, the terminal lobe larger than

the 2 to 4 side ones.

Preferred Habitat - Roadsides, fields, neglected gardens.

Flowering Season - June-November.

Distribution - Common throughout our area; naturalized from

Europe and Asia.

"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed,

which a man took and sowed in his field which indeed is less than

all seeds but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and

becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in

the branches thereof."

Commentators differ as to which is the mustard of the parable -

this common black mustard, or a rarer shrub-like tree (Salvadora

Persica), with an equivalent Arabic name, a pungent odor, and a

very small seed. Inasmuch as the mustard which is systematically

planted for fodder by Old World farmers grows with the greatest

luxuriance in Palestine, and the comparison between the size of

its seed and the plant's great height was already proverbial in

the East when Jesus used it, evidence strongly favors this

wayside weed. Indeed, the late Dr. Royle, who endeavored to prove

that it was the shrub that was referred to, finally found that it

does not grow in Galilee.

Now, there are two species which furnish the most powerfully

pungent condiment known to commerce; but the tiny dark brown

seeds of the black mustard are sharper than the serpent's tooth,

whereas the pale brown seeds of the WHITE MUSTARD, often mixed

with them, are far more mild. The latter (Sinapis alba) is a

similar, but more hairy, plant, with slightly larger yellow

flowers. Its pods are constricted like a necklace between the


The coarse HEDGE MUSTARD (Sisymbrium officinale), with rigid,

spreading branches, and spikes of tiny pale yellow flowers,

quickly followed by awl-shaped pods that are closely appressed to

the stem, abounds in waste places throughout our area. It blooms

from May to November, like the next species.

Another common and most troublesome weed from Europe is the FIELD

or CORN MUSTARD, CHARLOCK or FIELD KALE (Brassica arvensis;

Sinapis arvensis of Gray) found in grain fields, gardens, rich

waste lands, and rubbish heaps. The alternate leaves, which stand

boldly out from the stem, are oval, coarsely saw-toothed, or the

lower ones more irregular, and lobed at their bases, all rough to

the touch, and conspicuously veined. The four-parted yellow

flowers, measuring half an inch or more across, have six stamens

(like the other members of this cross-bearing family), containing

nectar at their bases. Two of them are shorter than the other

four. Honey-bees, ever abundant, the brilliant Syrphidae flies

which love yellow, and other small visitors after pollen and

nectar, to obtain the latter insert their tongues between the

stamens, and usually cross-fertilize the flowers. In stormy

weather, when few insects fly, the anthers finally turn their

pollen-covered tips upward; then, by a curvature of the tip of

the stamens, they are brought in contact with the flower's own

stigma; for it is obviously better that even self-fertilized seed

should be set than none at all. (See Ladies'-smock.) "The birds

of the air" may not lodge in the charlock's few and feeble

branches; nevertheless they come seeking the mild seeds in the

strongly nerved, smooth pods that spread in a loose raceme.

Domestic pigeons eat the seeds greedily.

The highly intelligent honey-bee, which usually confines itself

to one species of plant on its flights, apparently does not know

the difference between the field mustard and the WILD RADISH, or

JOINTED or WHITE CHARLOCK (Raphanus Raphanistrum); or, knowing

it, does not care to make distinctions, for it may be seen

visiting these similar flowers indiscriminately. At first the

blossoms of the radish are yellow, but they quickly fade to

white, and their purplish veins become more conspicuous. Rarely

the flowers are all purplish. The entire plant is rough to the

touch; the leaves, similar to those of the garden radish, are

deeply cleft (lyrate-pinnatifid); the seed pods, which soon

follow the flowers up the spike, are nearly cylindric when fresh,

but become constricted between the seeds, as they dry, until each

little pod looks like a section of a bead necklace.

The GARDEN RADISH of the market (R. sativus), occasionally

escaped from cultivation, although credited to China, is entirely

unknown in its native state. "It has long been held in high

esteem," wrote Peter Henderson, "and before the Christian era a

volume was written on this plant alone. The ancient Greeks, in

offering their oblations to Apollo, presented turnips in lead,

beets in silver, and radishes in vessels of beaten gold." Pliny

describes a radish eaten in Rome as being so transparent one

might see through the root. It was not until the sixteenth

century that the plant was introduced into England. Gerarde

mentions cultivating four varieties for Queen Elizabeth in Lord

Burleigh's garden.


WINTER- or ROCKET-CRESS (Barbarca Barbarea; B. vulgaris of Gray)

sends up spikes of little flowers like a yellow sweet alyssum as

early as April, and continues in bloom through June. Smooth pods

about one inch long quickly follow. The thickish, shining, tufted

leaves, very like the familiar WATER-CRESS (Roripa Nasturtium),

were formerly even more commonly eaten as a salad. In rich but

dry soil the plant flourishes from Virginia far northward,

locally in the interior of the United States and on the Pacific


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