Cuckoo Flower

Cardamine pratensis

The Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis) is a small mustard plant with showy pink flowers. It gets its name because the flower appears in the spring, about the time the Cuckoo bird starts to sing. It is native to Europe and Western Asia and has been introduced into North America where it can be found in most of Canada and the northern states. Oddly, while it has been naturalized in the US and Canada, the plant is under threat in European countries like Germany.

Cuckoo flower, like other mustards, can grow in large numbers, covering fields. This makes it a beautiful addition to the countryside.

This plant is also the food plant for the orange tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines). Many gardeners who value the Lepidopterans have planted this flower to help attract them.

This mustard isn’t particularly known for it’s edibility, but it has been used as a substitute for watercress and is very edible.

Cuckoo Flower in Legend

According to certain European folklore, it was said that cuckoo flower was sacred to the fairies, and was thus unlucky to bring indoors. Because of this, they didn’t include the flower in May Day garlands.

Similar Species

Large Bittercress has purple anthers. Explosive fruits are also found in two small flowered species, making them a problem for gardeners. The annual Hairy Bittercress mostly has four stamen; Wavy Bittercress has six and is usually perennial.

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Written by Rob Nelson

Rob is an ecologist from the University of Hawaii. He is the co-creator and director of Untamed Science. His goal is to create videos and content that are entertaining, accurate, and educational. When he's not making science content, he races whitewater kayaks and works on Stone Age Man.

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