Virginia pepperweed

Pictured above: Virginia pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum) by Mary Keim. Click on terms for botanical definitions. View post as a PDF.

Virginia pepperweed(Lepidium virginicum) begins as a low-growing basal rosette of deeply lobed leaves. Arising from the rosette on branching stems are elongated racemes of tiny whitish-yellow flowers. They have the appearance of thin, greenish-white bottlebrushes. Leaves are linear to lanceolate and toothedSeeds develop along the stem and vary in shape but most commonly resemble a flat, lentil-shaped disk.

Virginia pepperweed is the larval host for the Checkered white butterfly. by Mary Keim

Virginia pepperweed flowers are hermaphroditic (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by a variety of insects, especially bees. The plant is a larval host for the Checkered white (Pontia protodice) (pictured above) and Great Southern white (Ascia monuste) butterflies.

Virginia pepperweed is a member of the mustard family and is edible to humans. The young leaves, which contain protein and vitamins A and C, can be added to salads or sauteed; the seeds can be used as a substitute for black pepper. (Doubtful? Pop a few clean seeds in your mouth and you will know immediately why this Florida native is sometimes called poor man’s pepper.)

Family: Brassicaceae (Mustard family)
Native range: Throughout Florida except Nassau and Glades counties
To see where natural populations of Virginia pepperweed have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: 7-11
Soil: Dry, well-drained, sandy to rich soils
Exposure: Full sun
Growth habit: 6-20” tall
Garden tips: If eating Virginia pepperweed doesn’t appeal to you, the dried seed stems can also be used in flower arrangements. They are showy, sturdy, and last a long time. Although Virginia pepperweed is rarely planted intentionally, it can show up just about anywhere. It is so prolific that it has earned the title of “weed” — but as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, a weed is simply a “plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered”!