Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Mountain Bittercress - Cardamine clematitis   Shuttleworth ex A. Gray
Members of Brassicaceae:
Members of Cardamine with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Capparales » Family Brassicaceae
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AuthorShuttleworth ex A. Gray
DistributionPresent in the Mountains mainly at higher elevations; also Cleveland County in the Piedmont. However, owing to the recent splitting out of C. flagellifera -- a more numerous species in NC at lower elevations -- there is some confusion as to what counties have truly been documented for C. clematitis. Only specimens from NCU are included on the map, as the website editors fear that most other specimens may well refer now to C. flagellifera.

This is a Southern Appalachian endemic species, ranging only from southwestern VA barely to northeastern GA, with TN and NC having most of the populations.
AbundanceApparently rare to locally uncommon, but not truly rare. Weakley's (2018) map shows it as "rare" in the NC Mountains. The NCNHP tracks the species as Significantly Rare. As mentioned above, the range and abundance in NC is a bit clouded by the presence of C. flagellifera, though C. clematitis is almost certainly rarer than that species.
Habitat"Shaded brookbanks, rock outcrops with seepage, at high elevations (1200m [about 3700 feet] and above)" (Weakley 2018).
See also Habitat Account for Montane Shaded Herbaceous Seeps
PhenologyBlooms in April and May, and fruits in June and July.
IdentificationBoth this species and C. flagellifera are quite similar in overall appearance. Each is somewhat leaning to erect, to about 7-8 inches tall. Each has small basal leaves. The several alternate stem leaves are strongly pinnately divided into 3-5 segments, one terminal and 1-2 pairs of lateral leaflets; each leaflet is a bit oddly lobed and shaped, generally somewhat rounded and about 1-inch across and long at most. The flower cluster at the end of the stem is like others in the genus, with a few 4-petaled white flowers blooming at a single time, each one being about 1/2-inch across. These two species can easily be told from others by the odd stem leaves separated into 3-5 rounded leaflets. This species can be separated from C. flagellifera by: 1) the stem is smooth at the base, as opposed to pubescent at the base in the other; 2) the lower stem leaflets are green below, whereas the other has purple leaflets below; 3) the petioles are auriculate (eared) at the base, but not so in the other; 4) the leaves have mostly 3 leaflets, versus 3-5 leaflets in the other; and 5) the siliques (capsules) are 22-40 mm (about 1.3 inches on average) long, versus 10-25 mm (about 2/3-inch on average) for the other, based on characters in Weakley (2018). Thus, look for leaflets that are green below, and a smooth stem at the base, for this highland species; if fruit are present, this one has them more than 1-inch long.
Taxonomic CommentsSee above. Most older references did not even mention C. flagellifera, as that species was described in 1974.

Other Common Name(s)Small Mountain Bittercress
State RankS2S3
Global RankG3
State StatusSR-T
US Status
USACE-agcpFAC link
USACE-empOBL link
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