Information on Shepherd's-purse

Common Name: Shepherd's-purse
Scientific Name: Capsella bursa-pastoris
Irish Name: Lus an sparáin
Family Group: Brassicaceae
Distribution: View Map (Courtesy of the BSBI)
Flowering Period

Click for list of all flowering by month
Shepherd's-purse is not easily confused with other wild plants on this web site.

All-year round this little annual wildflower can be found growing in gardens, on tracks, cracks in pavements and on arable land.  Its 4-petalled white flowers (2-3mm across) are borne in terminal clusters on stiff stalks rising to about 35cm from a basal rosette. The lanceolate leaves vary from lobed to entire.  It is easily distinguished from other members of the family Brassicaceae by its distinctive seedpods which are green and triangular with a notch at the top giving it a heart-shape.  This is a native plant which is widespread throughout Ireland.  

I first identified this plant growing in Dalkey, Co Dublin in 1977 and photographed it there in 2009 

If you are satisfied you have correctly identified this plant, please submit your sighting to the National Biodiversity Data Centre

Used by 17th century apothecary and herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, who recommended that 'the juice being dropped into the ears, heals the pains, noise and mutterings thereof'

Shepherd's-purse appears in the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894).  From 'The Flowers'

'All the names I know from nurse:
Gardener's garters, Shepherd's purse,
Bachelor's buttons, Lady's smock,
And the Lady Hollyhock.

Fairy places, fairy things,
Fairy woods where the wild bee wings,
Tiny trees for tiny dames -
These must all be fairy names!'

And in the poetry of John Clare (1793 -1864). From 'The Flitting'

'Een here my simple feelings nurse
A love for every simple weed,
And een this little shepherd's purse
Grieves me to cut it up; indeed
I feel at times a love and joy
For every weed and every thing,
A feeling kindred from a boy,
A feeling brought with every Spring.

And why? this shepherd's purse that grows
In this strange spot, in days gone bye
Grew in the little garden rows
Of my old home now left; and I
Feel what I never felt before,
This weed an ancient neighbour here,
And though I own the spot no more
Its every trifle makes it dear.'