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Cardamine_diphylla_2014-01-20
Cardamine diphylla
    ( Cardamine        diphylla )
Toothworth, Pepper Root, Crinkleroot, taken on January 20, 2014.
Photo Credit: Mike Strickland

Are you one of those folks who walks around your property searching for the first signs of emergence from dormancy of your plant treasures? Then you might consider adding the native perennial Cardamine diphylla, common name Toothwort, to your winter and early spring delight. Found natively in hardwood forests, and blooming before (or as) the trees leaf out, this member of the mustard family produces a four petal loose cluster (in cross-shape) of white or light pink blossoms in April. You may first notice the leaves in late fall (for sure by January) when the basal foliage emerges from the rhizome - 2 leaves (that's the "diphylla" in the latin name), opposite, each divided into 3 roundish, toothed lobes. These leaves are deeply dissected, making the two leaves look palmately compound.

The common name Toothwort refers to the tooth-like projections on the rhizome not to the teething on the leaves. The rhizome was used by the Native Americans for numerous medicinal purposes and is said to have a taste similar to horseradish. Pepper Root is another common name indicating the spiciness of the fleshy rhizome which can be eaten raw in salads like radishes.

Northern Georgia is the southern end of this native's habitat. Although requiring a wooded habitat, it does not tolerate the deep shade cast by evergreen trees. You may also find it along the edge of a moist, wooded area. If you see trilliums, look also for this ground-hugging perennial whose rhizomes often will multiply to cover a fairly large patch of ground. Propagate by digging the rhizomes which are close to the surface after the plant goes dormant.

Although quite small and standing upright on an erect stem only about 8-16 inches, the flower is charming and attracts the eye when in bloom. Narrow seedpods follow the blooming period. From spring into summer, the crinkly leaves make an attractive ground cover with their white veining. As the heat increases, Cardamine diphylla goes dormant, re-emerging as the weather and moisture increase.

Common uses for this plant include: Combine with Trillium, Iris cristata, and Dicentra eximia for a naturalistic display. It makes a nice groundcover under Cornus florida, Rhododendron periclymenoides and Hydrangea quercifolia.

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