Cardamine pratensis
Wiesenschaumkraut (Cardamine pratensis)-20200416-RM-095356.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Brassicales
Family: Brassicaceae
Genus: Cardamine
C. pratensis
Binomial name
Cardamine pratensis

Cardamine pratensis, the cuckoo flower, lady's smock, mayflower, or milkmaids, is a flowering plant in the family Brassicaceae. It is a perennial herb native throughout most of Europe and Western Asia. The specific name pratensis is Latin for "meadow".


Cardamine pratensis is a herbaceous, hairless,[1]perennial plant growing to 40–60 cm tall, with pinnate leaves 5–12 cm long with 3–15 leaflets, each leaflet about 1 cm long. The flowers are produced on a spike 10–30 cm long, each flower 1–2 cm in diameter with four very pale violet-pink (rarely white) petals. The style of the fruit is short or longish.[1] It grows best close to water.


Its common name cuckoo flower derives from the formation of the plant's flowers at around the same time as the arrival each spring of the first cuckoos in the British Isles.[2] An alternative 16th century dated tale refers to 'cuckoo spit', which the plant is sometimes covered in. Which is due to a bug called the froghopper and not the cuckoo.[3]


Cardamine pratensis is a polyploid complex, with all ploidy levels from diploid to decaploid, and dodecaploid, known, as well as frequent aneuploids. It may be treated as a single species, or divided into Cardamine pratensis s.str. (diploid to heptaploid) and Cardamine palustris (syn. Cardamine pratensis subsp. paludosa (Knaf) Celak., Cardamine dentata Schult.)[4]) (octaploid to decaploid).


The species is commonly found throughout the British Isles.[5]

Recorded in Ireland from all 40 of the "vice-counties" (a system adopted by Praeger in 1901).[6]


It is grown as an ornamental plant in gardens, and has become naturalised in North America as a result of cultivation. In some European countries, including parts of Germany, the plant is now under threat.

It is a food plant for the orange tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) and makes a valuable addition to any garden which aims at attracting wildlife. It was once used as a substitute for watercress.


In folklore it was said to be sacred to the fairies, and so was unlucky if brought indoors. It was not included in May Day garlands for the same reason.[7]

Additional general information

It is the county flower of the English county of Cheshire.[8]



  1. ^ a b Webb, D.A., Parnell, J. and Doogue, D. An Irish Flora 1996. Dundalgan Press, Dundalk. ISBN 0-85221-131-7
  2. ^ "Lady's Smock | Wildflowers | Wildlife". Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  3. ^ Reader's Digest Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain. Reader's Digest. 1981. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-276-00217-5.
  4. ^ "Cardamine dentata Schult". Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  5. ^ Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. and Warburg, E.F. 1968. Excursion Flora of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-04656-4
  6. ^ Scannell, M.J.P and Synnott, D.M. 1972. Census Catalogue of the Flora of Ireland. Dublin
  7. ^ Howard, Michael. Traditional Folk Remedies, (Century, 1987); p
  8. ^ "Cuckooflower | Plant & fungi species | Wild plants". Retrieved 2016-10-10.

External links