Nasturtium officinale W.T. Aiton

Common Name: Water-cress

Synonyms and Other Names:

Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum (L.) Hayek, Nasturtium nasturtium-aquaticum, (L.) H. Karst., Sisymbrium nasturtium-aquaticum L., Nasturtium officinale var. siifolium (Rchb.) W.D.J. Koch, watercress, water cress, yellowcress



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Identification: Watercress is a fast-growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial herb that appears floating or prostrate in mud. Stems are succulent, hollow, and branched, rooting at nodes. Leaves are pinnately divided; leaflets 3–7, oval to egg-shaped, entire to wavy-edged. Flowers are small (6 mm, diameter) and white, in terminal clusters. Sepals are erect, green, about 3 mm long; petals are white, about 4 mm long with 4 long stamens attached near their bases to the filaments. Ovary about 3 mm long, style short, stigma with two lobes. Fruits borne on spreading pedicels and slightly curved upward. The double row of seeds in each half of the siliqua is a well marked character. The valves of the ripe siliqua are beaded; seeds suborbicular and compressed, with 25 alveoli on each side of the testa.  This species can grow to a height of 50-200 cm, with a stem up to 20 mm in diameter and with leaves up to 27 cm in length.


Size: 4–25 in. long


Native Range: Eurasia & Asia.


Great Lakes Nonindigenous Occurrences: Watercress has been introduced in America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It was first introduced in United States in 1831, and has been recorded in  IL, IN,  MI, MN, NY, OH,  PA, and WI. The first Great Lakes sighting was reported in Lake Ontario in 1847. 


Table 1. Great Lakes region nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state/province, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Nasturtium officinale are found here.

Full list of USGS occurrences

State/ProvinceFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
IN197620082Little Calumet-Galien; St. Joseph
MI1857201727Au Sable; Betsie-Platte; Black-Macatawa; Boardman-Charlevoix; Cheboygan; Great Lakes Region; Huron; Kawkawlin-Pine; Lake Michigan; Manistee; Northeastern Lake Michigan; Northwestern Lake Huron; Ottawa-Stony; Pere Marquette-White; Pine; Saginaw; Southcentral Lake Superior; Southeastern Lake Michigan; Southwestern Lake Huron; St. Clair; St. Clair-Detroit; St. Joseph; Thornapple; Thunder Bay; Tittabawassee; Upper Grand; Western Lake Erie
MN200820081St. Louis
NY1987202011Buffalo-Eighteenmile; Cattaraugus; Chautauqua-Conneaut; Eastern Lake Erie; Great Lakes Region; Lower Genesee; Oneida; Oswego; Seneca; Southwestern Lake Ontario; Upper Genesee
OH200820228Ashtabula-Chagrin; Black-Rocky; Cuyahoga; Grand; Lake Erie; Sandusky; Southern Lake Erie; Western Lake Erie
PA192220152Chautauqua-Conneaut; Lake Erie
VT200320032Lake Champlain-Richelieu River; Northeastern Lake Ontario-Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
WI1985201814Bad-Montreal; Beartrap-Nemadji; Black-Presque Isle; Fox; Lake Michigan; Lake Superior; Manitowoc-Sheboygan; Menominee; Northwestern Lake Michigan; Oconto; Pike-Root; Southwestern Lake Michigan; Upper Fox; Wolf

Table last updated 4/19/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.


Ecology: Nasturium officinale is a perennial herb that grows at the water’s surface along the edges of cold lakes and reservoirs, and along slow-moving streams and rivers (Benson et al. 2004, Howard and Lyon 1952, Robert W. Frackman Herbarium 2012). The depth of water in commercial watercress beds is about 3-6 in (Howard and Lyon 1952). This species is well-suited to water that is slightly alkaline and it is usually absent from stagnant water. Watercress prefers to take roots in limey, gravelly sediment (Robert W. Freckman Herbarium 2012). Watercress appears to be intolerant of heavy shade (Howard and Lyon 1952). A relatively high humidity is required for optimum growth (Howard and Lyon 1952).

Nasturium officinale overwinters with terminal buds up to 10 cm in length (Howard and Lyon 1952). Watercress is most abundant in summer and autumn and flowers between March to October. This species is self-compatible and produces ~ 15 fruits per inflorescences and 26 seeds per fruit (Howard and Lyon 1952). This species is also capable of vegetative reproduction (Howard and Lyon 1952).


Means of Introduction: Intentionally introduced by green industry and cultivation. Fragments are dispersed unintentionally by wind, water, and animals.


Status: Established. Naturalized throughout North America, north to Alaska.


Great Lakes Impacts:
Summary of species impacts derived from literature review. Click on an icon to find out more...

EnvironmentalSocioeconomicBeneficial



Current research on the environmental impact of Nasturtium officinale in the Great Lakes is inadequate to support proper assessment.
Realized:
Nasturtium officinale can hybridize with N. microphyllum Boenn. ex Rchb, another invasive found in the Great Lakes, to produce the hybrid N. X sterile (Airy Shaw) Oefelein (Bleeker et al. 1999). However, this hybrid only produces viable seeds when the female parent is N. mircophyllum (Howard and Lyon 1952). The sterile hybrid can still propagate and expand vegetatively (Reznicek et al. 2011). Observations in Germany found that N. x sterile is more rigorous and is quicker at establishing itself from cuttings than either parent species (Bleeker et al. 1999). Nasturtium X sterile individuals have been found in Wisconsin (Robert W. Freckman Herbarium 2012). 

Newman et al. (1992) found that watercress produces a chemical defense that deters generalist feeders such as the amphipod Gammarus pseudolimnaeus, the caddisflies Hesperophylax designates and Limnephilus spp., and the physid snail Physella spp. (Newman et al. 1992).

Potential:
Nasturtium officinale can host the Spongospora subterranea (crook root fungus) and yellow spot virus (Walsh and Phelps 1991). Cabbage black-ringspot versus and the cucumber mosaic virus has been found on cultivated populations of Nasturtium officinale  (Howard and Lyon 1952).

Watercress is able to take up large amounts of nitrate from water bodies it lives in. The nitrogen is released when the plants die and decompose; however, if the plants are removed (as is the goal with most invasive species) this could alter the amount of nitrogen available (Howard-Williams et al. 1982).

Watercress can grow into large mats in slow parts of streams, typically in the bends and curves of the steam’s path. If populations get big enough, they could contribute significantly to the meanders of the stream (Kullberg 1974). However, Benson et al. (2004) found that this species causes minimal impact on natural communities in the Northwest region of the United States (Benson et al. 2004).

There is little or no evidence to support that Nasturtium officinale has significant socio-economic impacts in the Great Lakes.
Potential:
Nasturtium officinale can host the crook root fungus, yellow spot virus, cabbage black-ringspot virus, and the cucumber mosaic virus (Howard and Lyon 1952, Walsh and Phelps 1991). If watercress is growing near cultivated lands, these viruses could infect and damage crops. 

Watercress can also host Fasciola hepatica, common liver fluke (CDC 2013). People can become infected by eating raw watercress contaminated with fluke larvae (CDC 2013).


Nasturtium officinale has a moderate beneficial effect in the Great Lakes.
Realized:
Nasturtium officinale can be eaten raw, has high concentrations of vitamins and minerals, and has a peppery flavor (Benson et al. 2004, Robert W. Freckman Herbarium 2012, State of Washington 2013). This species is harvested recreationally and grown commercially in the United States (CANSWP 2006, State of Washington 2013). People can become infected by eating raw watercress contaminated with fluke larvae (CDC 2013).

Watercress has been used an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments: common cold; sore throat; earache; improve heart, kidney, and respiration health; the juice has been used to heal skin sores and acne (Robert W. Freckman Herbarium 2012).

Potential:
Nasturtium officinale has potent anti-oxidative properties and may have applications in the prevention of free radical-related diseases (Bahramikia and Yazdanparast 2010). Gill et al. (2007) found that consumption of watercress may lead to decreased damage to DNA and increased carotenoid concentrations; ultimately reducing the risk of cancer.

In test sites monitored by Redding et al. (1997), N. officinale was able to significantly reduce the concentrations of ammonia-N, nitrate-N and phosphorus in the wastewater. Effective treatment was dependent on harvesting the plant biomass (Redding et al. 1997). Nasturtium officinale is able to withstand the stress and accumulate moderate amounts of arsenic, nickel, and lead (Duman and Ozturk 2010, Keser and Saygideger 2010, Ozturk et al. 2010). A year after the closure of a paper mill on a stream in Michigan, this species was one of a few found growing downstream of the polluted site (Kullberg 1974). This ability to take up nutrients and contaminants make N. officinale a possible candidate for use in phytoremediation or wastewater treatment operations.

In Washington, watercress was reportedly eaten by ducks, muskrats and deer (Robert W. Freckman Herbarium 2012).


Management: Regulations (pertaining to the Great Lakes)
Nasturtium officinale is prohibited in Illinois (GLPANS 2008). Even though it is not restricted or prohibited, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources acknowledges this species as being highly invasive and recommends its eradication upon detection (Robert W. Freckman Herbarium 2012).

In 2001, the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission determined that this species has low to moderate ecological impacts, and is difficult to control given the widespread populations and/or limited effective control options (Falck and Garske 2003).  

Note: Check federal, state/provincial, and local regulations for the most up-to-date information.

Control
Biological
There are no known biological control methods for this species.

Physical
Manual removal of N. officinale offers control for small populations (WI DNR 2010).

Chemical
The non-selective compound glyphosate will provide some control; however it will not be effective in flowing water and will harm other plant species if it comes in contact (WI DNR 2010).

Note: Check state/provincial and local regulations for the most up-to-date information regarding permits for control methods. Follow all label instructions.


References (click for full reference list)


Author: Cao, L, and L. Berent


Contributing Agencies:
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Revision Date: 7/30/2019


Citation for this information:
Cao, L, and L. Berent, 2024, Nasturtium officinale W.T. Aiton: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/GreatLakes/FactSheet.aspx?NoCache=12%2F10%2F2013+7%3A53%3A28+PM&Species_ID=229&State=&HUCNumber=, Revision Date: 7/30/2019, Access Date: 4/20/2024

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.