Capsella bursa-pastoris, The Shepherd’s Purse

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)Capsella is Latin for a “Little Box” and bursa-pastoris translates literally as “Shepherd’s Purse.” The seed pods resemble a once common leather pouch worn on the belt by working people, not a purse in the modern sense the pouch would have contained their food for the day.

Shepherd’s purse is a member of the Mustard family and the flower looks like many other little mustard flowers. Four white petals, six stamens and a single style.

Shepherd's Purse flowers (Capsella bursa-pastoris)As soon as the heart shaped seed pods begin to develop the plant becomes unmistakeable.

Shepherd's Purse seed pod (Capsella bursa-pastoris)This type of seed pod is typical of the Mustard family (but not this shape). It is called a siliqua and is made up of a central septum, from which the seeds grow and two outer shell cases called carpels that protect the seeds.

The septum remains on the plant when the carpels, now full of seeds, have fallen off.

(The septum remains on the plant)
Shepherd's Purse septum (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

(The complete siliqua with the two carpels still attached)Shepherd's Purse seed pod (Capsella bursa-pastoris)It is common to see all stages of the development on the flower stem, with opening flowers at the top, heart shaped seed pods below and further down just the remains of the septum.

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)The plant grows from a basal rosette of leaves which look a bit like a Dandelion, except the lobes of a Dandelion leaf point inward toward the centre of the plant and the lobes of a Shepherd’s Purse leaf are either at right angles to the stem or point outward.

The basal rosette withers as the flower stem grows and leaves grow alternately on the lower part of the flower stem.

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)The leaves on the stem are stalkless and wrap around the stem.

Shepherd's Purse leaves (Capsella bursa-pastoris)This kind of flower stem is called a raceme and a raceme is a single flower stem that bears multiple flowers on short stalks with the lowest ones opening first.

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)At this early stage there is no sign of the distinctive seed pods and the large thistle like leaves are probably the best clue to identification.

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)The Raceme continues to grow as the flowers open and turn to seed.

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)Shepherd’s Purse is still considered by many herbalists to be an important drug plant. It’s main use being to stop internal haemorrhaging. It was still in use during the First World War when other drugs were not available.

It is a native of Eastern Europe and Asia Minor and is naturalised in the UK, North America and many other parts of the world.

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)Taxonomy:

Kingdom: Plantae

Order: Brassicales

Family: Brassicaceae

Genus: Capsella

Species: Capsella bursa-pastoris

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)Back to White Wildflowers

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