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Hornungia petraea

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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, 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, Smith's Pepperwort, 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:
10 centimetres tall
Fields, gardens, mountains, rocky places, sand dunes, walls.

White, 4 petals
Terminal clusters of greenish-white flowers. The flowers are barely larger than 1mm in size. Petals are slightly longer than the sepals.
Flattened but rounded, notched fruits, up to 3mm long.
An annual flower with pinnate leaves. Leaves consist of between 3 to 15 leaflets which are lance-shaped to oval.
Other Names:
Rock Hornungia, Rock Whitlowgrass.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Hornungia petraea, also known as rock hornungia, is a species of flowering plant in the family Caryophyllaceae. It is native to the mountains of central and southern Europe, including the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Carpathians. It is a small, mat-forming perennial that has small, linear leaves and produces small, white or pink flowers in the summer. It is typically found growing in rocky or gravelly habitats, such as rocky outcrops, scree slopes, and talus fields. It is a hardy plant that is tolerant of drought and cold temperatures and can be grown in rock gardens or alpine gardens.


Hutchinsia and Hornungia petraea are two closely related plant species that belong to the Brassicaceae family. These tiny plants are often found growing in rocky crevices, scree, and other open habitats in the mountains of Europe and Asia.

Hutchinsia is a genus that consists of about 10 species of annual or biennial herbs. The plants are very small, usually less than 5 cm in height, with small, narrow leaves and tiny white flowers. They are often found growing in alpine and subalpine habitats, where they form dense mats on rocks and other surfaces.

Hornungia petraea, also known as the rock whitlowgrass, is a small, low-growing plant that is native to the mountains of central and southern Europe. It is a perennial herb that grows up to 10 cm tall and produces small, white flowers from April to June. It is commonly found growing in rocky crevices and scree, often in association with other alpine plants.

Both Hutchinsia and Hornungia petraea are adapted to the harsh conditions of alpine environments. These plants have evolved a number of strategies to cope with the cold, dry, and nutrient-poor soils that characterize these habitats. For example, they have small leaves that reduce water loss through transpiration, and they often have shallow root systems that allow them to absorb nutrients from the thin layer of soil that covers the rocks.

Despite their small size and inconspicuous appearance, Hutchinsia and Hornungia petraea are important components of alpine ecosystems. They provide important habitat and food sources for a variety of insects, including bees, butterflies, and moths. Additionally, these plants are often used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, such as coughs, colds, and digestive disorders.

Hutchinsia and Hornungia petraea are not only important components of alpine ecosystems but also have cultural significance. For example, the plant Hornungia petraea is used in traditional Austrian folk medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including bronchitis, asthma, and tuberculosis. In Italy, Hutchinsia alpina has been traditionally used to treat respiratory diseases, rheumatism, and headaches.

These plants are also important to scientists and researchers who study alpine ecology and plant biology. Due to their unique adaptations to alpine environments, Hutchinsia and Hornungia petraea are often used as model organisms to understand how plants respond to extreme conditions such as high altitude, cold temperatures, and low nutrient availability. Research on these plants has also helped to advance our understanding of plant evolution and the genetic mechanisms underlying adaptation to different environments.

Unfortunately, like many other alpine plant species, Hutchinsia and Hornungia petraea are threatened by climate change and habitat loss. As temperatures rise and precipitation patterns shift, these plants may be unable to adapt quickly enough to survive in their current habitats. Additionally, human activities such as quarrying and mining can destroy the rocky habitats in which these plants grow, further exacerbating their vulnerability.

In addition to their ecological and cultural significance, Hutchinsia and Hornungia petraea are also interesting from a horticultural perspective. Despite their small size, these plants can be used to great effect in rock gardens and other alpine garden settings. Their tiny white flowers and delicate foliage can add a touch of elegance to any garden, while their hardy nature and ability to thrive in harsh conditions make them well-suited to low-maintenance landscaping.

Both Hutchinsia and Hornungia petraea are relatively easy to grow from seed, and they can be propagated by division or cuttings. When grown in cultivation, these plants require well-draining soil and full sun to thrive. They should be watered regularly but not over-watered, as they are susceptible to root rot.

Another interesting aspect of Hutchinsia and Hornungia petraea is their phylogenetic relationship with other members of the Brassicaceae family. Brassicaceae is a large and diverse family of plants that includes many economically important crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, and mustard. Despite their small size and inconspicuous appearance, Hutchinsia and Hornungia petraea are closely related to these more familiar members of the Brassicaceae family.

Research on the evolution of the Brassicaceae family has shown that Hutchinsia and Hornungia petraea diverged from the main lineage of the family relatively early in its history. This means that these plants may hold important clues to understanding the early evolution of the Brassicaceae family and the genetic mechanisms that underlie the diversification of plants more broadly.

In addition to their phylogenetic relationship to other Brassicaceae species, Hutchinsia and Hornungia petraea are also interesting from a biochemical perspective. Like other members of the Brassicaceae family, these plants contain a number of unique secondary metabolites such as glucosinolates, which are responsible for the pungent flavor of mustard and other cruciferous vegetables. These secondary metabolites have been the subject of extensive research due to their potential health benefits and other applications in agriculture and industry.

In conclusion, Hutchinsia and Hornungia petraea are not only interesting from an ecological and horticultural perspective but also hold important clues to understanding the evolution and diversity of the Brassicaceae family. As researchers continue to explore the genetic and biochemical mechanisms underlying plant diversity, it is likely that these tiny alpine plants will continue to play an important role in our understanding of the natural world around us.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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