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I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!

This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!

30 December, 2016

Wintercress: goes with a bang



Wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris) flowers in May, June and July so one wonders at the name of wintercress! The cress is certainly in keeping as it is a member of the mustard set of the cabbage family and is said to have a bitter taste. It is a biennial plant which means it grows green in the first year and then flowers in the second. This would mean that it is green over winter and so if it was to be used as a vegetable then it would be a cress available in winter. I have not found confirmation of this but as it is also known as winter rocket I think mt theory may be sound.
Wintecress is a sturdy plant that can grow to three feet tall. It has a strong, ridged stem and the leaves at the base are large and lobed, just like some varieties of cabbage. The flowers are yellow and form in clusters around the top of the stem. Flowers that have a;ready gone to seed can be found just below the current ones on the stem. It is a shiny green colour. This is a plant that prefers moist conditions and is found along roadside ditches and on the banks of streams but it can turn up almost anywhere!
The wintercress contains several chemicals including saponins which make it resistant to some insects. Wikipedia has an interesting note that some species of moth and beetle feed on the  wintercress and absorb these saponin chemicals which then cause their larvae to die shortly after birth. This has led to tests being carried out to see if growing wintercress with other crops susceptible to moth and beetle infestations can act as a natural form of pest control. It does not say whether this has been successful.
The scientific name Barbarea is derived from St Barbara, the patron saint of artillery gun crews, as it was once used to sooth the wound caused by explosions.
Wintercress: goes with a bang