Barbarea vulgaris

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Barbarea vulgaris
Barbarea vulgaris1.jpg
Scientific classification
B. vulgaris
Binomial name
Barbarea vulgaris
  • Cheiranthus ibericus Willd.
  • Barbarea ceretana Sennen
  • Erysimum barbarea L.
  • Erysimum arcuatu Opiz ex J. Presl & C. Presl

Barbarea vulgaris, also called bittercress, herb barbara, rocketcress, yellow rocketcress, winter rocket, yellow rocket, and wound rocket, is a biennial herb of the genus Barbarea, belonging to the mustard family.


Close-up on flowers of Barbarea vulgaris

This plant grows to about 30–60 cm (12–24 in) high, with a maximum of 1 m (3 ft 3 in). The stem is ribbed and hairless, branched at the base. It has a basal rosettes of shiny, dark green leaves. The basal leaves are stalked and lyre-pinnatifid, that is with a large terminal lobe and smaller lower lobes. The cauline leaves are smaller, ovate, toothed, or lobed. The flowers are borne in spring in dense terminal clusters above the foliage. They are 7–9 mm (0.28–0.35 in) long, with four bright yellow petals. The flowering period extends from about April through July. The fruit is a pod around 15–30 mm (0.59–1.18 in).

Chemical substances in this species include saponins,[references 6, 7, 8)] flavonoids,[2] and glucosinolates.[3][4]


It was first published and described by William Aiton in his 'Hortus Kewensis' Vol.4 on page 109 in 1812. Some references mention Robert Brown (Robert Brown (botanist, born 1773)),[5] as the author but there are no mentions of his name in Hortus Kewensis, so Aiton is regarded as the correct author.[6]

It has various common names including 'bittercress', 'cressy-greens', 'herb-Barbaras', 'rocket cress', 'upland cress', 'English wintercress' and 'yellow rocket'.[7]


The genus name Barbarea derives from Saint Barbara, the patron saint of artillerymen and miners, as this plant in the past was used to soothe the wounds caused by explosions.[8] The species Latin name vulgaris means “common”.[9]

Natural insect resistance and its potential use in agriculture[edit]

Most B. vulgaris genotypes are naturally resistant to some insect species that are otherwise specialized on the crucifer family. In the case of diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella) and the flea beetle Phyllotreta nemorum, the resistance is caused by saponins.[10][11][12][13] Glucosinolates such as glucobarbarin and glucobrassicin are used as a cue for egg-laying by female cabbage white butterflies such as Pieris rapae. Indeed, the larvae of this butterfly thrive well on this plant. Diamondback moth females are also stimulated by these chemicals, but the larvae die due to the content of saponins which are apparently not sensed by the moths. This phenomenon has been tested for biological insect control: B. vulgaris plants are placed in a field and attract much of the diamondback moth egg load. As the larvae die shortly after hatching, this kind of insect control has been named "dead-end trap cropping".[14]


Native to Eurasia and North Africa, it is naturalised in many parts of North America and New Zealand as a weed.[7]


It is found in temperate North Africa within Algeria and Tunisia. Also in Asia, within Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Caucasus, China (in the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Jilin and Xinjiang), Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Japan (in the provinces Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, Ryukyu Islands and Shikoku), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Siberia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Turkey. It is also found in tropical parts Asia, such as India (- in the provinces of Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh), Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In eastern Europe, it is found within Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Ukraine. In middle Europe, it is in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia and Switzerland. In northern Europe, in Denmark, Ireland, Sweden and United Kingdom. In southeastern Europe, within Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. Lastly, it is found in southwestern Europe, it is found in France, Portugal and Spain.[7]


The plant prefers fresh or moist places, on roadsides, along rivers, in arable land, wastelands and docklands, or on the slopes and in ditches, at an altitude of 0–2,500 m (0–8,202 ft) above sea level.[1]

It also prefers to grow in siliceous, calcareous, sandy, alluvial and clay soils.[1]

Natural chemotypes with distinct ecology[edit]

A pubescent type (the "P-type") has been described from southern Scandinavia and Russia. While this chemotype is rare in Scandinavia, it seems to be dominant in Russia according to the only survey made so far (Christensen et al., 2014). This type has atypical chemistry and is devoid of resistance to the diamondback moth and the flea beetle Phyllotreta nemorum. The P-type belongs morphologically to the variety B. vulgaris var. arcuata, but may also be identical to the subspecies originally described as Barbarea arcuata Rchb. ssp. pubescens N. Busch. In this context, the usual type of B. vulgaris var. arcuata is called the "G-type" (for glabrous (hairless) leaves). This type is reported to be dominant in Central Europe (Christensen et al., 2014). On a genomic scale, more than 22.000 genes (89% of those tested) were found to have fixed differences between the two types (Byrne et al., 2017).

A chemotype with deviating glucosinolate content has been described from Western and Central Europe and named the "NAS-type" (because it is dominated by the glucosinolate glucoNASturtiin. This type has increased resistance to some specialized insects. In this context, the usual chemotype of B. vulgaris is called the "BAR" type (because it is dominated by glucoBARbarin) (van Leur et al., 2006).

While the P-type and G-type differ in multiple genetic, chemical and morphological features, the NAS and BAR types seem to be a simple monogenic variation (van Leur et al., 2006). For this reason, it has been suggested to refer to NAS and BAR forms (from the lowest botanical rank forma) and P- and G-types. Indeed, occasional NAS form plants in Central Europe were found to be G-type by a set of genetic markers (Agerbirk et al., 2015).

Christensen et al., 2014. Christensen S, Heimes C, Agerbirk N, Kuzina V, Olsen CE, Hauser TP (2014) Different geographical distributions of two chemotypes of Barbarea vulgaris that differ in resistance to insects and a pathogen. Journal of Chemical Ecology 40, 491-501.

Byrne et al., 2017. Byrne SL, Ehrtmann PØ, Agerbirk N, Bak S, Hauser TP, Nagy I, Paina C, Asp T (2017) The genome sequence of Barbarea vulgaris facilitates the study of ecological biochemistry. Scientific reports 7:40728 doi:10:1038/srep40728

Agerbirk et al., 2015. Agerbirk N, Olsen CE, Heimes C, Christensen S, Bak S, Hauser TP (2015) Multiple hydroxyphenethyl glucosinolate isomers and their tandem mass spectrometric distinction in a geographically structured polymorphism in the crucifer Barbarea vulgaris. Phytochemistry 115, 130-142.


The young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked.[15]


  • Barbarea vulgaris var. arcuata (Opiz ex J. Presl & C. Presl) Fr.
  • Barbarea vulgaris var. brachycarpa Rouy & Foucaud
  • Barbarea vulgaris var. longisiliquosa Carion
  • Barbarea vulgaris var. sylvestris Fr.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Lansdown, R.V. (2014). "Barbarea vulgaris". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  2. ^ Dalby-Brown, Lea; Olsen, Carl Erik; Nielsen, Jens Kvist; Agerbirk, Niels (2011). "Polymorphism for Novel Tetraglycosylated Flavonols in an Eco-model Crucifer, Barbarea vulgaris". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 59 (13): 6947–56. doi:10.1021/jf200412c. PMID 21615154.
  3. ^ Agerbirk, Niels; Olsen, Carl Erik (2011). "Isoferuloyl derivatives of five seed glucosinolates in the crucifer genus Barbarea". Phytochemistry. 72 (7): 610–23. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2011.01.034. PMID 21354584.
  4. ^ Agerbirk, Niels; Ørgaard, Marian; Nielsen, Jens Kvist (2003). "Glucosinolates, flea beetle resistance, and leaf pubescence as taxonomic characters in the genus Barbarea (Brassicaceae)". Phytochemistry. 63 (1): 69–80. doi:10.1016/S0031-9422(02)00750-1. PMID 12657300.
  5. ^ "Barbarea vulgaris R.Br. is an accepted name". Retrieved 13 November 2017.
  6. ^ Brassicaceae Barbarea vulgaris W.T.Aiton. 4. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
  7. ^ a b c "Taxon: Barbarea vulgaris W. T. Aiton". Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  8. ^ Reader's Digest Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain. Reader's Digest. 1981. p. 46. ISBN 9780276002175.
  9. ^ Allen J. Coombes The A to Z of Plant Names: A Quick Reference Guide to 4000 Garden Plants, p. 65, at Google Books
  10. ^ Kuzina, V.; Ekstrom, C. T.; Andersen, S. B.; Nielsen, J. K.; Olsen, C. E.; Bak, S. (2009). "Identification of Defense Compounds in Barbarea vulgaris against the Herbivore Phyllotreta nemorum by an Ecometabolomic Approach". Plant Physiology. 151 (4): 1977–90. doi:10.1104/pp.109.136952. PMC 2785962. PMID 19819983.
  11. ^ Kuzina, Vera; Nielsen, Jens Kvist; Augustin, Jörg Manfred; Torp, Anna Maria; Bak, Søren; Andersen, Sven Bode (2011). "Barbarea vulgaris linkage map and quantitative trait loci for saponins, glucosinolates, hairiness and resistance to the herbivore Phyllotreta nemorum". Phytochemistry. 72 (2–3): 188–98. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2010.11.007. PMID 21130479.
  12. ^ Nielsen, Nikoline J.; Nielsen, John; Staerk, Dan (2010). "New Resistance-Correlated Saponins from the Insect-Resistant CruciferBarbarea vulgaris". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 58 (9): 5509–14. doi:10.1021/jf903988f. PMID 20387830.
  13. ^ Shinoda, Tetsuro; Nagao, Tsuneatsu; Nakayama, Masayoshi; Serizawa, Hiroaki; Koshioka, Masaji; Okabe, Hikaru; Kawai, Akira (2002). "Identification of a triterpenoid saponin from a crucifer, Barbarea vulgaris, as a feeding deterrent to the diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella". Journal of Chemical Ecology. 28 (3): 587–99. doi:10.1023/A:1014500330510. PMID 11944835.
  14. ^ Shelton, A. M. and B. A. Nault (2004) "Dead-end trap cropping: a technique to improve management of the diamondback moth," Crop Protection 23: 497-503.
  15. ^ Niering, William A.; Olmstead, Nancy C. (1985) [1979]. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, Eastern Region. Knopf. p. 425. ISBN 0-394-50432-1.

Further reading[edit]

  • Pignatti S. - Flora d'Italia – Edagricole – 1982, Vol. I, pag. 396
  • Tutin, T.G. et al. - Flora Europaea, second edition - 1993

External links[edit]