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Trefoil Cress

Cardamine trifolia

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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, Smith's Pepperwort, Steppe Cabbage, Swede, Sweet Alyssum, Tall Rocket, Thale Cress, Tower Mustard, Treacle Mustard, 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:
30 centimetres tall
Gardens, meadows, roadsides, woodland.

White, 4 petals
Flowers are white but sometimes pinkish-purple. Pollinated by bees, butterflies and moths.
The fruit is a cylindrical pod. The seeds ripen from May to July.
Large trefoil leaves. The 3 leaflets are toothed and purplish beneath. Sometimes encountered as a garden escape species.
Other Names:
Cut-leaved Toothwort, Three-leaved Cuckooflower, Three-leaved Toothwort, Trifoliate Bittercress.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Cardamine trifolia, also known as cut-leaved toothwort or three-leaved toothwort, is a species of flowering plant in the mustard family (Brassicaceae). It is native to North America, and is found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, meadows, and moist, shady areas. The plant is known for its delicate, three-lobed leaves and small, white flowers that bloom in the spring months. It is a perennial plant, meaning it will come back year after year. Cardamine trifolia is a small, herbaceous plant that reaches a height of about 30 cm. It has a delicate, spreading habit and is often used in naturalized gardens or as a groundcover plant. The plant is known for its attractive foliage and flowers, and is also used medicinally for its astringent and diuretic properties.


Trefoil Cress, scientifically known as Cardamine trifolia, is a wild flowering plant that is native to Europe, Asia, and North America. It is a member of the Brassicaceae family and is also commonly referred to as "Lady's Smock" or "Cuckoo Flower".

The plant grows to be about 10-30 cm tall and is characterized by its delicate, white to pale pink flowers, which bloom in the spring. Its leaves are trifoliate, meaning they are divided into three leaflets, and they are usually a vibrant green color. Trefoil Cress is often found growing in moist, shady locations, such as along streams and riverbanks or in meadows and woodlands.

One of the most notable characteristics of Trefoil Cress is its ability to grow and thrive in a wide range of soil types, including sandy and clay soils. This makes it an ideal plant for gardens and landscapes that are looking to add a touch of natural beauty. In addition to its hardy growth habits, Trefoil Cress is also highly prized for its ornamental value, as its delicate flowers and vibrant green leaves make it a beautiful addition to any garden.

Aside from its ornamental value, Trefoil Cress is also known for its nutritional properties. It is a rich source of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and calcium. In fact, the young leaves of Trefoil Cress can be eaten raw or cooked and are often used in salads or as a garnish.

In addition to its food and ornamental uses, Trefoil Cress is also of interest to scientists and botanists. It is considered a model plant for the study of plant-herbivore interactions, as it is known to be the preferred food source for several species of butterfly larvae. This has led to a wealth of research on the ecology and evolution of the plant-herbivore relationship.

Overall, Trefoil Cress is a versatile and hardy plant that offers a wide range of benefits and uses. Whether you are a gardener looking to add a touch of beauty to your landscape, a chef looking for a new ingredient, or a scientist interested in the intricacies of plant-herbivore interactions, Trefoil Cress is definitely worth considering.

Trefoil Cress is also a popular plant for wildflower gardens and naturalized landscapes. Its ability to grow in a wide range of soil types, combined with its delicate flowers and vibrant green leaves, make it an ideal choice for these types of gardens. It is also an important plant for supporting local pollinators and other wildlife, as its nectar-rich flowers provide a valuable source of food for bees, butterflies, and other insects.

In addition to its ornamental and ecological benefits, Trefoil Cress is also of interest to herbalists and traditional medicine practitioners. The plant has been used for centuries to treat a wide range of ailments, including digestive problems, skin irritation, and respiratory issues. Some studies have also shown that Trefoil Cress has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, making it a valuable ingredient in natural health remedies.

It is important to note, however, that Trefoil Cress should only be used for medicinal purposes under the guidance of a licensed healthcare professional. Some parts of the plant, such as the seeds, can be toxic in large quantities, so it is important to be cautious when using Trefoil Cress for medicinal purposes.

Trefoil Cress is a valuable and versatile plant that offers a wide range of benefits and uses. Whether you are a gardener, chef, scientist, or herbalist, this plant is definitely worth considering for its ornamental, nutritional, and medicinal properties. If you are interested in growing Trefoil Cress, it is relatively easy to grow from seed and can be planted in a wide range of soils and environments.

Aside from its ornamental and medicinal uses, Trefoil Cress is also a valuable plant in the study of plant genetics and evolution. Scientists have used Trefoil Cress as a model system to study the molecular and genetic basis of plant responses to various environmental stresses, such as drought, heat, and heavy metal toxicity. By studying Trefoil Cress, scientists have been able to gain a better understanding of how plants respond to these types of stresses and how they have evolved over time to become more resilient.

Trefoil Cress is also an important plant in the study of plant-microbe interactions. The plant has a complex relationship with soil microbes, including rhizobia, which are nitrogen-fixing bacteria that form symbiotic relationships with the roots of leguminous plants. By studying this relationship, scientists have been able to gain a better understanding of how plants and microbes interact and how these interactions influence plant growth and health.

In addition to its scientific importance, Trefoil Cress is also a valuable plant for ecosystem restoration and rehabilitation. Due to its ability to grow in a wide range of soils and its ability to support pollinators and other wildlife, Trefoil Cress can play an important role in restoring degraded or disturbed habitats. By planting Trefoil Cress in these areas, it is possible to create a more diverse and sustainable ecosystem that provides numerous benefits to the surrounding environment.

In conclusion, Trefoil Cress is a truly remarkable plant that offers a wide range of benefits and uses. Whether you are a gardener, chef, scientist, herbalist, or conservationist, this plant has something to offer.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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