Common whitlow grass

I was walking along the road outside my house last week and spotted this tiny miniature forest at the edge of the pavement. At a distance, you’d never even spot them and my first thought was of moss fruiting capsules. On much closer inspection, it was a colony of tiny whitlowgrass (Erophila verna) flowering away.

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Whitlow grass, looking moss-like amongst the mosses, flowering at the base of a wall along the pavement near my house

These are members of the crucifer family – more commonly known as the cabbage family – named for their four-petalled, cross-shaped flowers. Each of the little flowering stalks was just a few centimetres high, and the basal rosettes were around 1cm across – these really are tiny little wildflowers.

I love these tiny ephemeral species which grab their chances un-noticed at the peripheries, whether this is the ‘weeds’ which grow at the edges of pavements or the ‘arable weeds‘ which brighten up the dull monocultures which seem to dominate the local landscape. The perils of appreciating such invisible botany is the concomitant confusion you create in those who pass you, exemplified in this case by the local police officer who happened to be driving past as I took the photo and wound down the window to ask what I was doing.

I brought one back for a closer look under the hand lens at home, and took a few photos. Rose helpfully gives you certainty in the identity in this case – ‘Whitlowgrass is the only white-flowered crucifer with notched petals and a hairless flowering stem‘.

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Photograph of the plant showing the hairless flowering stems above the tiny basal rosette

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Close-up of the flowers – you can see the white notched petals wrapped around the seedpod in the flower on the right, whilst the two on the left are less well advanced.

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