Capsella bursa-pastoris: Shepherd’s Purse

Capsella bursapastoris (Shepherd’s Purse) on 4-4-20, #683-2.

Shepherd’s Purse

Capsella bursa-pastoris

kap-SEL-luh  BUR-suh  PAS-tor-is

Synonyms of Capsella bursa-pastoris: Hmmm… Normally I list the synonyms, but Plants of the World Online says there are 227. That would take up A LOT of space…

Capsella bursa-pastoris (L.) Medick. is the correct and accepted scientific name for Shepherd’s Purse. The genus and species were named and described as such by Friedrich Kasimir Medikus in Pflanzen-Gattungen in 1792. It was first named Thlaspi bursa-pastoris by Carl von Linnaeus in the second volume of the first edition of Species Plantarum in 1753,

Plants of the World Online lists 8 species in the Capsella genus (as of 4-5-20 when I am updating this page). It is in the Brassicaceae Family with a total of 347 genera. Those numbers are likely to change as updates are made.

Distribution map of Capsella bursa-pastoris from Plants of the World Online. Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet; Retrieved on April 5, 2020.

The above distribution map for Capsella bursa-pastoris is from Plants of the World Online. Areas in green is where it is native and purple where is where it has been introduced. The map on the USDA Plants Database for North America is similar.

There are several links at the bottom of the page for further reading and to help with positive ID.

Capsella bursa-pastoris (Shepherd’s Purse) on 4-4-20, #683-3.

Have you ever wondered what those plants are that are growing along your driveway in the gravel are? You know, those plants you always mow off but they continue growing and flowering week after week. Well, there are two species of wildflowers that are very persistent in my driveway. One I identified a few years ago is Matricaria discoidea (Pineapple Chamomile) which leaves a pineapple scent in the air when I mow them off. The other is this plant I identified as Capsella bursa-pastoris, commonly known as Shepherd’s Purse. Normally, the plants don’t get very tall because I keep mowing them off but this spring one grew taller because it was growing next to a parked car. When the car was moved I got a few good photos of a bigger plant which I then uploaded on iNaturalist for a positive ID.

This is a plant that you really don’t pay much attention to, but once you do, you will see there are more of it than you realize. Which is a good thing… Their seeds contain mucilage which trap and kill nematodes.


Capsella bursa-pastoris (Shepherd’s Purse) on 4-4-20, #683-4.

Basil leaves form a rosette and grow in an alternate pattern. The basal leaves are petiolate, oblanceolate, irregularly toothed and normally pinnatifid.


Capsella bursa-pastoris (Shepherd’s Purse) on 4-4-20, #683-5.

Dense raceme of many stalked flowers appearing in tight clusters at first then elongating.


Capsella bursa-pastoris (Shepherd’s Purse) on 4-4-20, #683-6.

Small flowers, usually about 1/8” wide, have 4 petals, 4 greenish sepals with 6 stamens with a single pistil. The two outer stamens have a pair of nectar glands at their base.


Capsella bursa-pastoris (Shepherd’s Purse) on 4-4-20, #683-7.

Information says flowers only bloom toward the top of the raceme. Flowers are replaced by 2-celled triangular seed pods that produce about 20 seeds.

This species flowers almost year-round, depending on location. The seeds have a short germination time and can produce several generations per year. Seeds can also last several years in the soil.


Capsella bursa-pastoris (Shepherd’s Purse) on 4-4-20, #683-8.

The upper leaves can be sessile or clasp the stem with ear-like lobes (auriculate), lance-shaped with smooth or toothed margins. 


Capsella bursa-pastoris (Shepherd’s Purse) on 4-4-20, #683-9.

The upper surface of the leaves are somewhat smooth, but there are hairs along the margins and underside. The stems are also somewhat hairy. You don’t really notice them until you look at close-up photos.


Capsella bursa-pastoris (Shepherd’s Purse) on 4-4-20, #683-10.

The above photo shows an area where these plants have been and are continually mowed along the driveway. Even being only a few inches tall, they profusely flower most of the year.

Analysis has concluded that Capsella bursa-pastoris had a hybrid origin within the past 100,000-300,000 years. It has evolved from being a diploid, self-incompatible species to being a polypoid, self-compatible species. This has allowed into become one of the most widely distributed species on the planet. 

Scientists refer to this plant as a “protocarnivore” because it has been found that its seeds attract and kill nematodes. Seeds contain mucilage that traps nematodes. 

I have enjoyed photographing and learning about the many wildflowers growing on the farm and other areas. My farm is in Windsor, Missouri in Pettis County (Henry County is across the street and Benton and Johnson aren’t far away). I have grown over 500 different plants and most have pages listed on the right side of the blog. I am not an expert, botanist, or horticulturalist. I just like growing, photographing and writing about my experience. I rely on several websites for ID and a horticulturalist I contact if I cannot figure them out. Wildflowers can be somewhat variable from location to location, so sometimes it gets a bit confusing. If you see I have made an error, please let me know so I can correct what I have written.

I hope you found this page useful and be sure to check the links below for more information. They were written by experts and provide much more information. Some sites may not be up-to-date but they are always a work in progress. If you can, I would appreciate it if you would click on the “Like” below and leave a comment. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. You can also send an email to me at I would enjoy hearing from you especially if you notice something is a bit whacky

NOTE: Plants of the World Online is the most up-to-date database. It is very hard for some to keep with name changes these days so you may find a few discrepancies between the websites. Just be patient. Hopefully, someday they will be in harmony. 🙂