Cardamine pratensis
Common Name: bitter cress 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Brassicaceae
Native Range: Europe
Zone: 3 to 7
Height: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Bloom Time: April
Bloom Description: Pale pink to white
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Low
Attracts: Butterflies


Best grown in rich, humusy, moist to wet, well-drained soils in part shade to full shade. Plants thrive in cool summer climates in part shade locations. In optimum growing conditions, plants will slowly naturalize by short rhizomes to form colonies, but plants are not considered to be invasive. Winter hardy to USDA Zones 3 or 4 to 7.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Cardamine pratensis, commonly called bitter cress or meadow cress, is an herbaceous perennial that grows in a loose clump to 12-16" tall. It has a circumpolar distribution, covering parts of Europe, Asia and North America. In North America, it is typically found in moist to wet areas of woods, swamps, fields, meadows, grasslands and ditches throughout Canada south to Minnesota, Illinois and Virginia. Compound-pinnate basal leaves (each to 6" long) have up to 8 pairs of tiny oval rounded leaflets. The much smaller compound-pinnate stem leaves have narrower almost linear leaflets. Upright, unbranched stems rise from the basal rosette to 12-16" tall in spring. Each stem is topped by a terminal cluster (short open raceme) of small 4-petalled pale pink to white flowers. This spring bloom (April to June) arguably occurs at the same time as when the cuckoo begins to coo (another common name for this plant is cuckoo flower). Flowers are followed by pods which explode when ripe (July) to distribute seed. Young leaves and shoots are edible (may be added to salads), but with a pungent and bitter flavor that is somewhat reminiscent of water cress.

Genus name comes from the Greek name for a plant of the cress family.

Specific epithet means of the meadows.


No serious insect or disease problems. Powdery mildew, downy mildew and rust are potential disease problems.


Best in woodland gardens, bog gardens, wild flower gardens, cottage gardens or informal naturalized areas. Can be grown in shaded areas of borders or rock gardens.