MUSTARD FAMILY - Cruciferae: Black Mustard

Brassica nigra

Flowers--Bright yellow, fading pale, 1/4 to 1/2 in. across, 4-parted, in elongated racemes; quickly followed by narrow, upright 4-sided pods about 1/2 in. long appressed against the stem. Stem: Erect, 2 to 7 ft. tall, branching. Leaves: Variously lobed and divided, finely toothed, the terminal lobe larger than the 2 to 4 side ones.

Preferred Habitat--Roadsides, fields, neglected gardens.

Flowering Season--June-November.

Distribution--Common throughout our area; naturalized from Europe and Asia.

    "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed,
    which a man took and sowed in his field: which indeed is less
    than all seeds; but when it is grown, it is greater than the
    herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come
    and lodge in the branches thereof."

Commentators differ as to which is the mustard of the parable--this common Black Mustard, or a rarer shrub-like tree (Salvadora Persica), with an equivalent Arabic name, a pungent odor, and a very small seed. Inasmuch as the mustard which is systematically planted for fodder by Old World farmers grows with the greatest luxuriance in Palestine, and the comparison between the size of its seed and the plant's great height was already proverbial in the East when Jesus used it, evidence strongly favors this wayside weed. Indeed, the late Doctor Royle, who endeavored to prove that it was the shrub that was referred to, finally found that it does not grow in Galilee.

Now, there are two species which furnish the most powerfully pungent condiment known to commerce; but the tiny dark brown seeds of the Black Mustard are sharper than the serpent's tooth, whereas the pale brown seeds of the White Mustard, often mixed with them, are far more mild. The latter (Brassica alba) is a similar, but more hairy, plant, with slightly larger yellow flowers. Its pods are constricted like a necklace between the seeds.

The coarse Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale), with rigid, spreading branches, and spikes of tiny pale yellow flowers, quickly followed by awl-shaped pods that are closely appressed to the stem, abounds in waste places throughout our area. It blooms from May to November, like the next species.

Another common and most troublesome weed from Europe is the Field or Corn Mustard, Charlock or Field Kale (Brassica arvensis) found in grain fields, gardens, rich waste lands, and rubbish heaps. The alternate leaves, which stand boldly out from the stem, are oval, coarsely saw-toothed, or the lower ones more irregular, and lobed at their bases, all rough to the touch, and conspicuously veined.