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Smith's Pepperwort

Lepidium heterophyllum

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Brassicaceae (Cabbage)
Also in this family:
Alpine Pennycress, Alpine Rock-cress, American Wintercress, Annual Wall Rocket, Austrian Yellowcress, Awlwort, Bastard Cabbage, Black Mustard, Bristol Rock-cress, Charlock, Common Scurvygrass, Common Whitlowgrass, Coralroot, Creeping Yellowcress, Cuckooflower, Dame's-violet, Danish Scurvygrass, Dittander, Early Wintercress, Eastern Rocket, English Scurvygrass, Evergreen Candytuft, False London Rocket, Field Pennycress, Field Pepperwort, Flixweed, Garden Arabis, Garden Candytuft, Garden Cress, Garden Radish, Garden Rocket, Garlic Mustard, Glabrous Whitlowgrass, Gold of Pleasure, Great Yellowcress, Greater Cuckooflower, Greater Periwinkle, Greater Swinecress, Hairy Bittercress, Hairy Rock-cress, Hairy Rocket, Hairy Whitlowgrass, Hedge Mustard, Hoary Cress, Hoary Mustard, Hoary Stock, Hoary Whitlowgrass, Honesty, Horseradish, Hutchinsia, Hybrid Watercress, Intermediate Periwinkle, Isle of Man Cabbage, Large Bittercress, Lesser Swinecress, London Rocket, Lundy Cabbage, Marsh Yellowcress, Mountain Scurvygrass, Narrow-fruited Watercress, Narrow-leaved Bittercress, Narrow-leaved Pepperwort, Northern Rock-cress, Northern Yellowcress, Oilseed Rape, Perennial Rocket, Perennial Wall Rocket, Perfoliate Pennycress, Pinnate Coralroot, Purple Rock-cress, Pyrenean Scurvygrass, Rock Whitlowgrass, Russian Rocket, Scottish Scurvygrass, Sea Kale, Sea Radish, Sea Rocket, Sea Stock, Shepherd's Cress, Shepherd's Purse, Small-flowered Wintercress, Steppe Cabbage, Swede, Sweet Alyssum, Tall Rocket, Thale Cress, Tower Mustard, Treacle Mustard, Trefoil Cress, Turnip, Wall Whitlowgrass, Wallflower, Wallflower Cabbage, Warty Cabbage, Watercress, Wavy Bittercress, White Mustard, Wild Cabbage, Wild Candytuft, Wild Radish, Wild Turnip, Wintercress, Woad, Yellow Whitlowgrass
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Fields, grassland, hedgerows, meadows, roadsides, wasteland.

White, 4 petals
Dense spikes of tiny white flowers. Each flower consists of 4 widely spaced petals with violet-coloured anthers. The petals are longer than the sepals.
The smooth fruit capsules are oblong and the upper parts consist of a circular, flattened pod. At the top of each pod is a distinctive projecting style. Each pod contains an ovoid, dark brown seed. The fruit of Smith's Pepperwort is more oval and has got longer beaked pods than the similar-looking Field Pepperwort.
A low sprawling perennial plant with greyish-green, arrow-shaped, pointed leaves. The basal leaves are long-stalked. Smith's Pepperwort has hairy stems.
Other Names:
Different-leaved Pepperweed, Hairy Pepperwort, Poor Man's Pepper, Smith's Cress, Variable-leaved Pepperweed, Varied-leaved Peppergrass.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Other Information


Lepidium heterophyllum, commonly known as different-leaved pepperweed or varied-leaved peppergrass, is a species of annual herb in the Brassicaceae family. It is native to western North America and can be found in habitats such as meadows, roadsides, and disturbed areas. The plant has small white or pink flowers and leaves that are variable in shape and size, hence the name heterophyllum. The leaves and seeds of the plant are edible and have a pepper-like flavor and can be used in salads, soups, and sandwiches. The plant also has a history of medicinal use by native peoples of North America, but there is little scientific evidence to support these uses.


Smith's Pepperwort, also known as Lepidium heterophyllum, is a plant species that belongs to the Brassicaceae family. It is a native plant of North America, particularly in the western United States, including California, Oregon, and Washington.

The Smith's Pepperwort plant typically grows up to 20-60 cm tall and has several erect stems with leaves that are alternate, narrow, and finely dissected. The flowers are small and white, growing in clusters at the top of the stem, and eventually form seed pods that contain small brownish-black seeds.

One of the unique characteristics of Smith's Pepperwort is its ability to grow in harsh and disturbed habitats, such as roadsides, railroad tracks, and abandoned fields. It is often found in areas with sandy or gravelly soils, and it is tolerant to drought and salt.

Historically, Smith's Pepperwort has been used by Native American tribes for medicinal purposes, including as a treatment for colds, coughs, and fever. The plant contains glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing compounds that have antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer properties. The roots and leaves of the plant have been used to make poultices to treat skin infections and wounds.

Today, Smith's Pepperwort is also being studied for its potential as a biofuel crop. Its ability to grow in harsh environments and its relatively high oil content make it a promising candidate for use as a renewable energy source.

Despite its many uses and benefits, Smith's Pepperwort is considered a noxious weed in some regions, particularly in New Zealand, where it has become invasive and poses a threat to native plant species.

Smith's Pepperwort is a fascinating plant with a rich history of traditional uses and potential for modern applications. Its use as a medicinal plant by Native American tribes speaks to its therapeutic value and highlights the importance of preserving traditional knowledge and practices.

The plant's ability to grow in harsh environments and tolerate drought and salt also makes it a valuable resource for ecological restoration efforts. In disturbed areas where native plant species have been depleted, Smith's Pepperwort can help stabilize the soil, prevent erosion, and provide habitat for wildlife.

In addition to its potential as a biofuel crop, Smith's Pepperwort has also been studied for its nutritional value. The plant contains high levels of vitamins C and E, as well as minerals such as calcium and potassium, making it a potential source of dietary supplements or functional foods.

However, it is important to be cautious with the use and propagation of Smith's Pepperwort, especially in regions where it has the potential to become invasive. Invasive species can outcompete native species, disrupt ecosystems, and have negative economic and environmental impacts.

Another interesting aspect of Smith's Pepperwort is its role in pollinator conservation. The plant's flowers attract a variety of insects, including bees, butterflies, and moths, which in turn help pollinate other plants in the surrounding area. By providing a source of nectar and pollen, Smith's Pepperwort can help support local populations of pollinators, which are essential for maintaining biodiversity and food security.

Smith's Pepperwort also has cultural significance, particularly among Native American tribes. For example, the plant is known as "tayi" in the Paiute language, and its seeds were used as a traditional food source. The Paiute also used the plant's roots to make a tea that was believed to have medicinal properties.

Unfortunately, like many other traditional plants, Smith's Pepperwort is at risk of being lost due to habitat destruction, invasive species, and other threats. Efforts to protect and conserve the plant, along with traditional knowledge and practices associated with it, are therefore crucial for maintaining cultural diversity and ecological resilience.

Another interesting fact about Smith's Pepperwort is its ability to absorb and accumulate heavy metals from contaminated soils. This makes the plant useful in phytoremediation, a process that involves using plants to remove pollutants from the environment. Smith's Pepperwort's ability to remove heavy metals from soil is due to its high metal tolerance and the presence of metal-chelating compounds in its tissues.

Phytoremediation using plants like Smith's Pepperwort is a promising alternative to traditional methods of soil remediation, which can be expensive, energy-intensive, and sometimes harmful to the environment. By using plants to naturally extract and store pollutants, phytoremediation offers a sustainable and cost-effective way to clean up contaminated sites.

In addition, Smith's Pepperwort is also being studied for its potential as a natural insecticide. The plant's leaves contain compounds that are toxic to certain insect pests, such as aphids and spider mites, but are safe for beneficial insects like bees and ladybugs. By using Smith's Pepperwort as a natural insecticide, farmers can reduce their reliance on synthetic pesticides, which can have negative effects on the environment and human health.

Overall, Smith's Pepperwort is a plant species with many unique and beneficial characteristics. From its traditional uses as a medicinal and food plant to its potential for modern applications in biofuel production, phytoremediation, and insect control, Smith's Pepperwort demonstrates the importance of preserving and harnessing the value of biodiversity. By understanding and conserving plants like Smith's Pepperwort, we can promote ecological sustainability, support human well-being, and preserve cultural diversity.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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