The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Flowering Plants of Minnesota

The Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden is the oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

Black Mustard

Common Name
Black Mustard


Scientific Name
Brassica nigra (L.) W.D.J.Koch


Plant Family
Mustard (Brassicaceae)

Garden Location
Historical - not extant


Prime Season
Early Summer to Late Summer Flowering



Black Mustard is an erect annual plant growing on stiff stems to 8 feet high, sometimes with wide branching near the top. Upper stems are usually smooth while the lower stem may have some hair near the base which can be stiff and prickly.

The leaves vary from bottom to top. Lower leaves are pinnatifid in the shape of lyre or simple deeply lobed. The terminal lobe will be much larger. These lower leaves can be quite large, up to 10 inches long and they are on long stiff stalks. The stalks and the underside of the leaf ribs can have prickly hair. Leaves in the upper stem and in the inflorescence are usually not stalked, more elliptic to lanceolate (broadest below the middle) in shape, like the lower leaves but reduced and less lobed and the margins may be toothed.

The inflorescence consists of terminal and axillary erect racemes that are rounded on top. The inflorescence can get quite long on large plants - up to 2 feet long. The racemes elongate as the flowers open from bottom to top, while seed pods form from the earlier flowers.

The flowers are 4-parted, 1/4 to 1/3 inch wide with a corolla of 4 (usually) yellow petals that are ovate with rounded tips and a clawed base; 4 (usually) green to yellow, long and narrow sepals, six stamens with yellow anthers, grouped into pairs with the outer pair shorter than the two inner pair (tetradynamous) and a pistil with a single style that has a blunt tip. The style and the two longer pair of stamens are slightly exserted from the corolla throat when the flower is open.

Seed: Mature flowers produce a 2-valved slender linear 4-sided seed pod (called a 'silique') with a slender beak. The pod is about 2/3 inch long on a 1/3 inch stalk. The pod as it matures usually becomes appressed to the stalk of the raceme (not spreading) and usually contains 5 to 7 dark brown to black seeds, 1 to 1.5 mm in diameter. These are dispersed when the pod splits open along the lines of the 2 valves.


Habitat: Black Mustard has a taproot but is an annual and re-seeds itself. On good soil in full sun with moist conditions the plant reaches its maximum potential. In poorer conditions it may be much shorter. It will be found along ditches and other waste places where it is undisturbed. If spreads into large stands if not disturbed.

Names: The genus Brassica, is the Latin name for cabbage, which is in this genus. The species, nigra is Latin for 'black' referring to the seed color. A synonym name is Sinapis nigra which was the name applied in 1753 by the first author of the plant classification - '(L.)' - which refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. His work was ameded in 1833 to the current name by ‘W.D.J.Koch’ which is for Wilhelm Daniel Joseph Koch (1771-1849), German botanist, Professor of Botany at Erlangen, author of several publications on European plants.

Comparisons: Several plants may be confused with Black Mustard, particularly Charlock Mustard, Sinapis arvensis L. but there the seed pods are knotty or wavy and not appressed to the raceme stalk. Black Mustard is quite tall compared to others.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Inflorescence Flowers

Above: 1st photo - The inflorescence is a terminal raceme and others rising from the leaf axils. 2nd photo - The yellow petals have tips rounded to a blunt point.

Below: 1st photo - Detail of the narrow sepals, and the clawed base of the petals. 2nd photo - Seed pods forming below and flowers above open.

calyx seed pods forming

Below: The terminal lobe of the leaf is much larger than the other lobes. Margins have coarse teeth.


Below: Comparison of the shapes of various stem leaves.

leaf comparison

Below: 1st photo - an unlobed upper stem leaf. 2nd photo - the underside of a large lower leaf showing stiff prickles on the ribs.

Upper stem leaf Leaf underside

Below: Stems are stiff, stout with slight angles 1st photo - large stout stems can fine very prickly hair near the base. 2nd photo - upper stem sections are usually smooth. 3rd photo - The seed pods (siliques) are appressed to the stem.

lower stem with hair stem without hair seed pods

Below: Each mature seed pod holds 5 to 7 seeds which turn dark brown at maturity. While the pod is of two valves, note the obvious 4-angles to the pod, with the dry stalk at one end and the beak at the other.


Below: An example of an undisturbed patch of Black Mustard along a railroad right of way.

Black Mustard group

Below: A section of a large inflorescenc panicle.

part of an inflorescence


Notes: Black Mustard is native to Eurasia and has become naturalized in North America. The plant is found throughout the U.S. and southern Canada and is most abundant near the West Coast. It has been recorded in a dozen Minnesota counties including Hennepin where the plants pictured above were found. It was present in the Wildflower Garden at the time of Martha Crone's 1951 census.

Uses: Seeds of Black Mustard are used in condiments and for the oil contained in the seeds. The plant is cultivated for that purpose. The plant has an ancient history being recorded by the Greeks and Romans. The seeds themselves do not have an odor. Many members of the genus Brassica have all had some uses as food crops.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.