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Book cover - Common Weeds of New ZealandAn Illustrated Guide to
Common Weeds
of New Zealand


Capsella bursa-pastoris
Shepherd's purse


Reproduced from
Common Weeds of New Zealand
by Ian Popay, Paul Champion & Trevor James
ISBN 0 473 09760 5
by kind permission of the
New Zealand Plant Protection Society

Publication or other use of images or descriptive text on these pages is unauthorised unless written permission is obtained from the authors and publisher.
Appropriate acknowledgement of the publication Common Weeds of New Zealand must always be given.

Available from Touchwood Books

Capsella bursa-pastoris - shepherd's purse

Short-lived annual forming a flat rosette with very variable, lobed leaves. The flowering stem grows up to 30 cm tall from the rosette, and has small, white flowers and the very characteristic heart- or 'purse'-shaped seed capsules.

  • Flowers White, 2.5-3 mm in diameter, with four small, white, undivided petals, and four green sepals half the length of the petals. Flowers on slender, spreading stalks at the top of the flower stem. Flowers Sep-Jan.
  • Fruit Distinctive heart-shaped capsules, 6-9 mm long, greenish-brown, on long stalks. Capsules split when ripe into two valves releasing many tiny pale brown seeds.
  • Leaves Basal rosette leaves deeply lobed to entire, 5-20 cm long, narrowed towards the stalk. The arrow-shaped and toothed stem leaves have ear-like projections clasping the stem. The leaves, even on small seedlings, have scattered, star-shaped hairs, visible with a hand lens.
  • Stems Erect, thin, branched, 15-30 cm tall.
  • Roots Deep tap-root.


Gardens, footpaths, cultivated land and bare ground.


Common throughout NZ and the offshore islands. Originally from Europe.


Very common in cultivated soil everywhere in NZ, more common in winter, but can germinate and grow at any time of the year if moisture is adequate. The plants are commonly infected with a white rust fungus. Shepherd's purse is apparently renowned among herbalists for its ability to check bleeding.

Derivation of botanical name

Capsella (Lat.) = little sachet; bursa-pastoris (Lat.) = shepherd's purse, referring to the distinctive seed pods.

Last updated: July 13, 2014