What Is Toothwort – Can You Grow Toothwort Plants In Gardens

What Is Toothwort – Can You Grow Toothwort Plants In Gardens

By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

What is toothwort? Toothwort (Dentaria diphylla), also known as crinkleroot, broad-leaved toothwort or two-leaved toothwort, is a woodland plant native to much of the eastern United States and Canada. In the garden, toothwort makes a colorful and attractive winter-growing groundcover. Interested in growing toothwort in your own garden? Read on for toothwort plant information.

Toothwort Plant Information

A hardy plant suitable for growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 8, toothwort is an upright perennial that reaches heights of 8 to 16 inches. (20-40 cm.).

Toothwort’s distinctive palmate leaves are deeply cut and coarsely toothed. Bees, butterflies and other important pollinators are drawn to the clusters of delicate, white or pale pink flowers that rise on slender stems in springtime.

This plant emerges in autumn and adds beauty to the landscape until it goes dormant in early summer. Although the plant spreads by underground rhizomes, it is well behaved and not aggressive.

Traditionally, the roots of toothwort plants have been used to treat nervousness, menstrual difficulties and heart ailments.

How to Grow Toothwort Plants

Plant toothwort seeds in moist soil in summer. You can also propagate toothwort by dividing mature plants.

Although toothwort is a woodland plant, it needs a certain amount of sunlight and doesn’t do well in deep shade. Look for a planting site in light sunlight or dappled shade under deciduous trees. Toothwort thrives in rich, woodland soil but it tolerates a wide range of conditions, including sandy soil and clay.

Toothwort, which is at its best in winter and early spring, will leave a bare spot in the garden when it dies down. Spring- and summer-blooming perennials will fill the empty space during its dormancy.

Toothwort Plant Care

Like most native plants, toothwort plant care is uninvolved. Just water frequently, as toothwort likes moist soil. A thin layer of mulch will protect the roots during the winter months.

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Toothwort Plant Information: Learn About Toothwort Plant Care - garden

L. clandestina - L. clandestina is a parasitic plant that grows at the base of trees or shrubs. It is a rhizomatous perennial with two-lipped, light purple flowers that just peak above the soil surface in spring.

Lathraea clandestina is: Deciduous



Flushed purple, White in Spring

Watch out for

General care


Scatter seeds when ripe or divide a clum off of mature specimen and plant near the roots of a Willow, Poplar or Alder.

Propagation methods

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The Garden.org Plants Database

Timer: 1.09 jiffies (0.010864973068237).

I just discovered the existence of this hybrid between two very similar genera of Gordonia X Franklinia of the Tea Family (Theaceae). My friend Christopher is selling several potted plants of this tree at his nursery near Downingtown, PA. Both parent species are native to the southeastern USA. The Loblolly or Red Bay of Gordonia lasianthus is the larger evergreen tree found in swampy soils in pinelands and bays along from southern MS to central FL up to southeast VA while the Franklin-Tree was found surviving in one spot in Georgia in the 18th century by Bartram.

This member of the Tea Family, along with Camellia, Franklin-Tree, and Stewartia, is an evergreen tree native to acid, swampy pinelands and bays along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico & the Atlantic from southern Mississippi to central Florida up to southeast Virginia. It has leathery, shiny, oblong simple leaves about 4 to 6 inches long x 1.5 to 2 inches wide with finely toothed margins, and the leaves turn red before falling. The long-stemmed waxy, white, fragrant flowers are 2 to 3 inches in diameter with 5 large petals with uneven edges. The dry fruit is a woody capsule about 0.8 inches long. The bark is reddish-brown with broken scaly ridges.

I bought this lily for the name. I live in Kentucky but glad I did. It grows closer to 5 ft for me. Love the freckles.

If you like doubles this is a good one to add. Very bright large showy blooms. Clumps at a good pace.

I bought A LITTLE PREGNANT for the name. One of my friends is a midwife. So far I have about 6 fans so I haven't divided it yet. Bright, colorful bloom, but it tends to be on the slow side for increasing.

This is a nice plant for the garden. So bright and multiplies very well. It draws attention to itself. I will always keep this one.

This one reblooms regularly in my zone 6 garden. So pretty in a clump

NIce bloom, similar to Beautiful Edgings but I like it better. A clump is so pretty

A great little mini daylily! Love the eyezone.

This plant has a uniquely colored bloom, grows well and polys.

Toothwort Plant Information: Learn About Toothwort Plant Care - garden

This resource was created by Joanne Vogel, Von Scully, and Kate Reilly.

Each week, we will highlight a spring ephemeral by posting an information sheet, photos, guiding questions, and enrichment activities designed for formal and informal educators, as well as lifelong learners.

Forgotten Flowers: Cutleaf Toothwort

Wort is derived from an old English word, wyrt, which means herb or plant. In this case toothwort means, you guessed it, tooth herb. The narrow leaves of this spring ephemeral are sharply serrated or toothed. However, the common name has more to do with the shape of its roots than its leaves.Image courtesy of Matt Tillett on Flicker, under CreativeCommons License Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

The roots of cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenate) are long, white, and pointy. They have a tangy, peppery flavor and Native Americans ate them like potatoes. They also cooked the spicy leaves as vegetables and boiled them to make stomach soothers, expectorants, and general spring tonics. The roots were mashed and used to treat colds, headaches, and sore throats. The European settlers followed the lead of the Native Americans, but it was the sharp, tooth-like characteristics of the roots that gave rise to this plant’s most common English name and medicinal use.

In 1621, a German philosopher named Jacob Boehme published a botanical apothecary (a guide to pharmaceuticals derived from plants) called Signatura Rerum or “The Signature of All Things”. It was famously known as the Doctrine of Signatures. In it, he detailed the age-old belief that the medicinal uses of plants should be based on the part of the body the plant resembled. For example, walnuts look like brains, so they should be used to treat diseases of the brain. Many early European settlers still followed this old world medical advice hence they used toothwort to heal toothaches. Modern medicine has not found efficacy for treating teeth, but early settlers swore by it.

As for the plant itself, this early spring bloomer has white flowers arranged in loose nodding clusters. Each flower has 4 separate white petals in the shape of a cross, a general characteristic of the cabbage or Cruciferae family. The flowers are mostly pollinated by insects. There is a spot located at the base of each petal that reflects ultraviolet light and is visible only to the pollinators of the flowers. The spots act like neon signs guiding the insects to the nectar at the base of the petals. Bumblebees and early spring butterflies like mourning cloaks and spring azures, a lovely tiny blue butterfly, are important pollinators. In the event of cold, wet springs, toothwort can self-pollinate.

Toothwort has other wonderful folk names crinkle root, crow’s foot, milkmaids, and pepperwort, to name a few. Whatever you call it, the flower is fleeting and is only found in moist undisturbed woodlands. They are one of the few cabbage family species that do better on the forest floor than in open areas.

Duke Farms Connection
At Duke Farms, we still find them growing along the trails in the woodlands behind the Hay Barn, but as their flowering is so brief, it’s easy to miss the bloom of this lovely ephemeral.

Want to grow cutleaf toothwort in your garden? Buy them from native nurseries and never collect them from the wild! The Native Plant Society of New Jersey is a great resource to help you find where to buy them or to get more information.

Guiding Questions and Enrichment

1. What part of the cutleaf toothwort plant is the source of its common name?
Answer: The roots are white and pointy like teeth, but the leaves are toothed as well.

2. What is the origin of wort? What does it mean?
Answer: Its origins come from an old English word, wyrt, which means herb.

3. How did Native Americans use toothwort?
Answer: They ate the roots like potatoes, the greens as vegetables, and used the plant to make medicines.

4. In 1621, a philosopher named Jacob Boehme published an herbal medicine book called “The Signature of All Things” that promoted an ancient theory that plants that resemble parts of the human body should be used to treat ailments of that body part. What is the philosophy of this doctrine called?
Answer: The Doctrine of Signatures.

5. European settlers that followed the Doctrine believed cutleaf toothwort should be used to treat ailments of the ___________. (Fill in the blank)
Answer: Teeth or toothaches.

6 How is cutleaf toothwort pollinated?
Answer: It is pollinated by insects, unless it is too cold when it blooms, then it can self-pollinate.

7. Name 3 pollinators of toothwort.
Answer: Bumblebees, mourning cloak butterflies, and spring azure butterflies

8. What plant family does toothwort belong to?
Answer: Cabbage family.

9. How many petals do flowers in the cabbage family have?
Answer: 4 petals, in the shape of a cross.

Literature Connection
Looking a literature connection for young learners to sink their teeth into?

What If You Had Animal Teeth by Sandra Markle

The teeth of different animals are explored, including beavers, naked mole rats, rattlesnakes, and elephants. The discovery includes the functionality of teeth and how they are suited to the organism's needs in the wild. Human teeth are also featured.

To hear the book read aloud, click here.

Sample Next Generation Learning Standards

  • 3-LS4-3: Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat, some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, some cannot survive at all.
    • This standard can be applied in the case that cutleaf toothwort flourishes under certain growing conditions but, it can also be used when studying toothed animals and their own habitats. Food chains may also be introduced.

There are many interdisciplinary connections to this lesson. For more ideas, contact Kate Reilly, Manager of Education, Duke Farms at [email protected]

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Although some taxonomists have lumped Dentaria into the genus Cardamine, we have chosen to keep these two shade-loving plants separate. The genus name, Dentaria, means "toothed" and indeed the rhizomes of these flowering perennials have many angular, tooth-like scars. The leaves, too, are often toothed (dentate). Dentaria is a woodland garden plant and prefers to keep company with the likes of uvularia, oxalis, and the smaller hosta varieties. Compost-rich woodland soils with consistent moisture are best. Dentaria blooms in early to mid-spring with purple, pink, or white flowers. Eventually, the plants will spread to form a small colony.

The genus Dentaria is in the family Brassicaeae which makes it a cousin to mustard, broccoli and cabbage and its plant parts sometimes have the same characteristic scent or flavor of its vegetable relatives. The roots of one species, Dentaria laciniata, have been used as a mustard substitute. When you are ready to buy dentaria for your garden, check out our online list of dentaria for sale.

Watch the video: Edible and Medicinal-Toothwort