Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
A bouquet of prairie chickweeds will win no honors at flower shows, but in nature hundreds or even thousands of these plants can be seen in bloom at the same time. These white carpets help brighten the otherwise dull aspect of early May on the North Dakota prairie. A hardy perennial, prairie chickweed has shown remarkable adaptive ability by establishing itself in the cold and temperate regions of both the northern and southern hemispheres.
Prairie chickweed starts out the month as a rough hairy plant three inches tall with grayish basal leaves that resemble mouse's ears. The few five-petaled flowers are white and about three-eighths of an inch wide. By June the plants may be a foot tall, with longer leaves and flower clusters at the tips of nearly bare branches. Prairie chickweed plants may grow singly or in mats several yards wide from an extensive root system.
Cattle do not relish this plant and the number of plants is largest on heavily or moderately grazed pastures in our area. Look for the species on drier sites away from the borders of wetlands.
Prairie chickweed is a member of the pink family (Caryophyllaceae) which derives its name from the Greek karyon, "nut," and phyllum, "leaf," probably referring to a flat projections on the seeds of some species. The generic name Cerastium is from the Greek cerastes, "horned," in allusion to the slender curved seed capsule. The specific epithet arvense means "typical" in botanical Latin. This plant was officially named by the Swedish founder of modern botanical nomenclature Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) in his monumental Species Plantarum of 1753.