New Mexico Wildflowers: Mustard Family



If a flower has four petals arranged in a cross, there's a good chance it's in the mustard family. Flowers are organized alphabetically by genus and species. Hover over a photo series to control the images.

Drummond's Rockcress (Boechera stricta)

This plant was formerly known as Arabis Drummondi. The flowers can be mostly white to begin with, in which case they turn lavender as they wither. The example I found had plenty of lavender to begin with. As the flower dies, small spikes—the seed pods—take their place.


Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

Shepherd's Purse is an inconspicuous weed with tiny white flowers. The giveaway is the distinctively shaped seed pods. This introduced species comes from the Mediterranean area, where the seed pods were thought to resemble the leather purses worn by shepherds (in the days before pockets).


Blue Mustard (Chorispora tenella)

Other names include crossflower, beanpodded mustard, chorispora, purple mustard, and tenella mustard. According to 

the New Mexico Wildflowers app, this species "grows only in the most disturbed of settings."


Western Tansy-Mustard (Descurainia pinnata)

My ID to the species level is based on the size and shape of the seed pods.


Spectacle Pod (Dimorphocarpa wislizeni)

In Albuquerque, Spectacle Pod is a common weed that blooms throughout the warm months. In April 2019, I found it running riot along the lower Embudito Trail. The flowers occur in clusters on tall stalks. The easy way to identify this species is the seeds that form below the flowers. The seeds supposedly look like spectacles; to me they look more like the fronts of the lab goggles I wore in chemistry class.


As summer turns to fall, you may encounter plants where the signature pods are mostly or entirely gone, but where the flowers are still blooming.


Draba, Whitlow-Grass (Draba)


Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum)

Western Wallflowers are typically yellow at the elevations where people usually encounter them, including in juniper-pinyon woodlands. At higher elevations they're typically orange-red. On rare occasions they're a stunning red. All of those variants are shown here.


Pepperweed (Lepidium)


New Mexico has multiple species of pepperweed, some native, others not. The tiny individual flowers may be difficult to make out. A close look shows the Mustard Family's classic cross-shaped arrangement of four petals. You can see that in the thumbnail to the left.


Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

As a young man in Arizona I sometimes hiked with a small bottle of vinaigrette, in case I came across a patch of watercress. I stopped doing that, however, due to the spread of giardia. Watercress is an Old World species but is widely naturalized in North America. Look for watercress in permanent shallow streams with clear, fast-flowing water. If you eat what you find, however, you're eating all the microbes and parasites in the stream.


Despite the name of the genus, the flowers we call nasturtiums are unrelated to the watercresses.


Bladderpod (Physaria)

The mountains around Albuquerque host several species of bladderpod. The newly formed seed pods look like tiny green balloons. (Before rubber, balloons were made from animal bladders, hence the common name.) You may find bladderpod listed under the genus Lesquerella, which now considered a synonym for Physaria.


Jim Hill Mustard, Tall Tumblemustard (Sisymbrium altissimum)

This look like (and is first cousin to) the London Rocket that's such a profuse weed in Albuquerque. One difference is that London Rocket flowers usually are under 4 mm long, while the petals on this species usually are at least 5 mm long.


London Rocket (Sisymbrium irio)