Cuckoo flower – Cardamine nymanii

Alaska Wildflowers | Pink

The cuckoo flower (cardamine nymanii) in Fairbanks, Alaska

Cuckoo flower

Cardamine nymanii

Common Names

cuckoo flower
fairy flower
lady smock
lady’s smock
our lady’s smock


Cardamine pratensis var. angustifolia

I would like to note that there is not much documented difference between Cardamine nymanii and the more widespread Cardamine pratensis other than the leaves being slightly smaller in Cardamine nymanii. It seems that the name Cardamine nymanii (or rather the original subspecies listing Cardamine pratensis var. angustifolia) was given to the more widespread North American population (with the smaller leaves). The main distinction that I came across is in the reproductive morphology – the diploid number for Cardamine pratensis is 2n=16 while in Cardamine nymanii is 2n=56, 60, 64, 80-100. Since most of us don’t have the ability to test the chromosomes of plants in the field, I’ll lump our Alaska species into Cardamine nymanii, although it’s likely both are present. They are both most commonly called the cuckoo flower anyway, so I’ll leave it at that.



Genus: Cardamine
Family: Brassicaceae
Order: Brassicales
full classification

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Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Forb/herb


For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

There are no documented uses for Cardamine nymanii, but the leaves of the more widespread Cardamine pratensis (of which Cardamine nymanii was originally listed as a subspecies) are edible and can be eaten as food in salads. They are said to have a peppery taste.

Identification and Information

The cuckoo flower is a herbaceous, perennial, pink flowering plant, often found in wet soils near ponds or streams. It has fibrous roots and aerial stems that are erect and typically unbranched, standing 10-50 cm (4-20 in) tall. Most of the leaves are basal and compound, 8-15 mm wide. The leaflets are petiolulate or sessile. The leaf blades are compound and 25-45 mm long and veined. In general, the leaves may be highly variable but tend to be fern-like in shape.

The inflorescence is a raceme with 6-14 pink or light violet flowers (can be fewer). The flowers are about 1-2 cm in diameter attached to the stem via a pedicels. The flower has 4 green or purple sepals and 4 petals with darker colored veins. Each flower has 6 stamens with yellow anthers. The fruits are yellow or brown and cylindrical, with 10-11 seeds lined inside at the margins.

Distribution and Habitat

Cardamine nymanii has a circumpolar distribution around North America and Eurasia. For the map locations above, I use data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and Flora of North America, which seemed to be in agreement for the North American Distribution. The USDA database included all territories in Canada, although, as noted before there might be some confusion with the almost identical species Cardamine pratensis.

The cuckoo flower lives in moist areas like near ponds, marshes, streams, rivers, and wet meadows. It’s also frequently found in drained pond beds or dried seasonal ponds. It prefers soil with high organic content like peat.

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RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae  (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
   SubkingdomViridiplantae  (green plants)
      InfrakingdomStreptophyta  (land plants)
            DivisionTracheophyta  (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
               SubdivisionSpermatophytina  (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
                           FamilyBrassicaceae  (mustards, moutardes, crucifers)
                              GenusCardamine L. (bittercress)
                                 SpeciesCardamine nymanii Gand. (cuckoo flower)

References and Further Reading

Classification and Taxonomy

Cardamine pratensis L. var. angustifolia Hook. cuckoo flower – USDA Database

Cardamine pratensis  L. Taxonomic Serial No.: 22773, ITIS Database


Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis – Plantlife


Cardamine nymanii Gand., Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF)

Identification and information

Cardamine pratensis L. subsp. angustifolia (Hooker) O.E. Schultz, Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago

27. Cardamine nymanii Gandoger, Bull. Soc. Bot. France. 72: 1043. 1925. (as nymani)., Flora of North America

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