Dentaria laciniata or Cardamine concatenata
The leaves of this early spring wildflower occur in distinctive whorls of three. Each leaflet is deeply cut, sometimes so much so that it looks like there are five leaflets. Clusters of white to pinkish flowers are born at the top of the plant; each flower has four petals and tends to “nod” downward. Individual plants have an overall slender appearance and reach about 8-12 inches in height.
Cutleaf toothwort is in the Mustard family, but unlike most mustards, toothwort prefers to live in the forests. It is one of the first plants to come up on the forest floor and like many of the other spring ephemerals, it flowers and goes to seed before the trees fully leaf out.
The fleshy roots (rhizomes) of Cutleaf Toothwort resemble a tooth, and this was once assumed to signify the plant’s use in herbal medicine–as a treatment for toothaches. The roots and leaves are edible and have a peppery taste, hence the common names Pepper Root and Wild Horseradish.
Look for this plant at the first start of the wildflower season (March to April in Virginia, depending on your elevation).