Yellow Rocket

Yellow Rocket
Barbarea vulgaris arcuata
Mustard family (Brassicaceae)

Description: This adventive biennial plant is 1–2½’ tall. During the first year it forms a rosette of basal leaves up to 1′ across, while during the second year it bolts upward with one or more flowering stalks. These stalks are hairless, stout, light green to reddish purple, and somewhat angular or ridged. Secondary stalks are produced in the upper half of the plant. The basal leaves are up to 6″ long and 2½” across. They are odd pinnate with 1-4 pairs of lateral lobes and a terminal lobe that is larger than the others. These lobes are oval, obovate, or nearly orbicular, and they have margins that are slightly undulate or bluntly dentate. The alternate cauline lines are sessile or clasp the stems. The lower to middle cauline leaves resemble the basal leaves, except that they are smaller and have fewer lateral lobes. The upper cauline leaves are up to 2″ long and 1″ across; their margins are shallowly lobed, undulate, or bluntly dentate. Both the basal and cauline leaves are dark green, hairless, and shiny on the upper surface. The upper stems terminate in racemes of yellow flowers. The flowers bloom toward the apex of each raceme, while the seedpods (siliques) develop below. Each flower is about 1/3″ across, consisting of 4 yellow petals, 4 yellowish green sepals that are linear-lanceolate, 6 stamens with pale yellow to light brown anthers, and a single pistil with a thick stigma. A robust plant will produce these flowers in great abundance and they are mildly fragrant. The blooming period occurs from mid-spring to early summer and lasts about a month (peaking during late spring). Each flower is replaced by an angular-cylindrical seedpod about 1″ long. The base of the seedpod is connected to a short slender pedicel, while at the other end it terminates in a short slender beak. These seedpods or siliques are spreading to ascending along the racemes. The seeds are ovoid, slightly flattened, and more or less brown. The root system consists of a stout taproot. This plant spreads by reseeding itself, and it occasionally forms colonies.

Cultivation: The preference is full sun, moist to mesic conditions, and a fertile loam or clay-loam soil. Growth is less robust at drier sites with poor soil. A little shade is also tolerated. Most vegetative growth occurs during the cool weather of early to mid-spring.

It is native to Eurasia. Habitats include cropland, fallow fields, vacant lots, construction sites, gardens, moist meadows, areas along roadsides and railroads, and waste areas. Highly disturbed areas are preferred; sometimes this species occurs in natural areas that are slightly degraded (including prairie restorations), but it is not particularly invasive.

Faunal Associations: The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract small bees and flies primarily. Occasionally, White butterflies can be observed sucking nectar from the flowers. The caterpillars of White Butterflies and some Pyralid moths feed on the foliage, including Pontia protodice (Checkered White), Pieris rapae (Cabbage White), Eustixia pupula (Pyralid Moth sp.), and Evergestis pallidata (Purple-Backed Cabbageworm). The seeds are a minor source of food to Mourning Doves, while the foliage is eaten readily by cattle and sheep.

Comments: This plant is quite showy while it is in full bloom. The basal leaves are reportedly edible during the early spring, but they later become bitter.

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