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What are Nasturtiums?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) are cheerful yellow, orange, and sometimes red flowers that grow on large creeping vines which will readily overtake any available surface. Found growing all over the world, nasturtiums are naturally pest resistant and delicious: the leaves and flowers of the plant can be eaten, and have a spicy flavor which goes well with a variety of dishes. Nasturtiums are also very easy to grow, and a natural choice for many gardeners who want an attractive, low maintenance plant.

Nasturtiums are extraordinarily hardy: they will grow as annuals in Zones 3-9, and will be perennial in Zones 10-11. In an annual form, nasturtiums will explode with foliage and flowers in the spring, and then die off in the fall. The dead foliage can be trimmed away or left, depending on taste, and because the plants naturally reseed, they will appear again in the same spot the next year. Perennially, nasturtiums will retain their green foliage year round and bloom in the spring and summer. In both cases, nasturtiums will spread readily and resist pests like insects and slugs.

The leaves of the nasturtium are often compared to lily pads. They are round, bright green, and attached to the thick, trailing stems of the parent plant. The five petaled flowers come in a range of colors, but all of them have a faintly spicy scent and flavor, along with a velvety texture. Gardeners who would like to encourage their nasturtiums to bloom can withhold water; water starved plants produce far more flowers.

In addition to spreading rapidly, nasturtiums can also be destructive. They should not be planted close to homes or along fence lines, as they are capable of ripping the siding from a house and dismantling a fence. The determined flowers will also reappear year after year whether or not they are wanted. These colorful flowers should be planted with extreme care.

Nasturtium flowers can be used in cakes, salads, and savory dishes. The leaves are an excellent addition to salad mixes, and both are very high in vitamin C, providing nutrition as well as color and flavor. They can also be used as decorations in floral bouquets and wreaths. The bright color of the flowers is also an excellent bird attractant, and hummingbirds in particular seem to enjoy nasturtiums. Migratory butterflies also sometimes take advantage of large patches of nasturtiums for food and shelter.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon158578 — On Mar 07, 2011

I'm intrigued that nasturtiums "are capable of ripping the siding from a house and dismantling a fence". Doesn't sound like any nasturtium I've ever seen - but I'd really like to see photos.

By mentirosa — On Jul 25, 2008

Nasturtium has been used in salads for a very long time. The young leaves have a peppery taste and are good, flavorful addition to lettuce such as butter head. Fresh leaves can be used in sandwiches also. Since nasturtium flowers are edible also, they can be added to salads, however, they have less flavor then leaves do.

Nasturtium does rather well in poor, sandy soil.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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