Ever mistake a weed for your prized arugula?
In this article, we’ll help you separate your treasured arugula from its deceiving lookalikes. We’ll explore differences in size, leaf shape, and flower color for a variety of similar plants, including some that can be toxic if consumed.
Let’s demystify the leafy confusion.
What does arugula look like?
Arugula (Eruca vesicaria), also known as “rocket” and “rucula”, is easily identified by its soft, dark green, and lobed leaves that look like an elongated oak leaf with prominent veins and serrated edges.
It is an upright annual plant that can reach a mature size of 1-3 feet (30-90 cm), especially in hot weather.
The leaves have a peppery smell when crushed, which is loved by many in salads. Young arugula leaves tend to be less bitter than mature ones.
It can produce small white flowers with purple veins in a cross shape, which is characteristic of the Brassicaceae or mustard family. But it’s most often harvested before it reaches this stage. The flowers are cross-shaped
It is fully edible, from its leaves to its flowers and seeds.
It may be difficult to distinguish arugula from other similar-looking plants because there are many cultivars of arugula, each with its own distinct characteristics. Here are a few examples:
– Arugula ‘Astro’: This variety of Eruca vesicaria sativa is known for its rounded, lobed leaves and a slightly milder, nutty flavor compared to other varieties. It’s a fast-growing cultivar and is often harvested as a baby green.
– Arugula ‘Rocket’ (or ‘Roquette’): This cultivar is a classic salad Arugula, with deeply lobed leaves and a strong, peppery flavor.
– Arugula ‘Speedy’: It’s known for its tender leaves and mild flavor. As the name suggests, ‘Speedy’ is a fast-growing cultivar of salad arugula.
– Arugula ‘Wasabi’: A cultivar of the Wild Arugula (Diplotaxis tenuifolia). This variety gets its name from the wasabi-like, sharp, spicy flavor of its leaves. It has a slower growth rate compared to salad arugula varieties but is a perennial and more cold-tolerant.
– Arugula ‘Rustic’ or ‘Rustica’: This is another Wild Arugula variety known for its deeply serrated leaves and strong, spicy flavor. ‘Rustic’ is also a hardy plant and can handle colder temperatures.
– Arugula ‘Sylvetta’: This is a variety of Wild Arugula. It is a slower-growing, perennial plant with smaller, deeply lobed leaves and a spicy flavor. It’s a bit more tolerant of heat and cold than salad arugula.
Weeds that look like Arugula
1. Wild Rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia)
Wild Rocket is most easily confused with the arugula as their green, lobed leaves can look very similar.
But if you look more closely, you can see that the leaves of the Wild Rocket are narrower and more serrated.
And the Wild Rocket is a sprawling perennial plant and tends to be more heat and cold-tolerant, whereas Arugula is usually grown as an annual and can bolt and grow to a height of 3 feet (90cm) under hot weather.
Although both plants have flowers that are shaped like a cross, Arugula has white flowers while Wild Rocket has bright yellow flowers.
Luckily both plants are edible, so there is no risk of toxicity if they are mixed up.
2. Dandelion (Taraxacum)
Dandelions are often confused as arugula because both have dark green, lobed leaves.
While both plants have lobed or toothed leaves, the pattern of the lobes and teeth is different. Arugula leaves have more pronounced lobes and are elongated while dandelion leaves are more irregular and lance-shaped with a jagged edge that looks a bit like teeth, hence its French name “dent-de-lion”, which means “lion’s tooth”.
Another difference is that dandelion leaves grow in a rosette pattern close to the ground but arugula tends to grow taller, reaching a height of 12-30 inches (30-76 cm) with leaves that branch out from the stem.
The color of flowers is a major distinguishing feature. Arugula produces white or yellowish flowers with dark centers, whereas dandelions are known for their bright yellow flowers, which eventually turn into round, white, puffball seeds.
Both plants are edible, although Dandelions have a slightly bitter taste.
2. Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata)
Sometimes called false dandelion, the Cat’s Ear has similar foliage to arugula. It grows low to the ground and grows in a rosette pattern.
But it is fairly easy to distinguish from Arugula because the leaves of the Cat’s Ear are hairy.
It also produces a tall, leafless stem that can grow up to 20 inches (50 cm) tall and supports the flower head with bright yellow flowers that look similar to dandelions.
The Cat’s Ear is edible but maybe a bit bitter due to its milky sap.
3. Ragwort (Senecio carniolica)
Caution must be taken with this perennial plant as it is toxic and can cause liver damage if ingested.
Its size and lobed leaves look very similar to Arugula, although they tend to be more deeply divided.
The major difference is that its flowers are yellow daisy-like, unlike arugula’s white flowers.
4. Horseweed (Conyza canadensis)
This annual plant has long and narrow leaves that grow in a rosette shape like Arugula.
But the leaves are not serrated and have smooth sides resembling a spearhead. They can grow up to 10 cm long and about 2 cm wide.
The flowers are small, white to pale purple in color, which is different from Arugula’s white flowers.
This plant is not edible and is toxic to horses.
5. Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
It is not easy to identify this annual weed from Arugula because they both share a similar size and the serrated leaves are arranged in a rosette pattern.
The only difference is that Shepherd’s Purse has smaller white flowers, which measure a little less than 1/8 inch (3 mm) across.
It is edible and often used as an herb.
6. Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
At first glance, Hairy bittercress may look just like Arugula as they both form a rosette of leaves that measure up to 8 inches (20 cm) across and 12 inches (30 cm) tall.
Belonging to the same mustard (Brassicaceae) family, they both produce small white flowers shaped like a cross.
The major difference is that each leaf of this annual weed is divided into 8 to 15 leaflets attached to the same petiole. And the leaflets are round to oval in shape with smooth edges and are slightly hairy.
Hairy Bittercress is edible and offers a peppery flavor just like Arugula.
7. Wild Mustard (Sinapis arvensis)
Wild Mustard looks very much like Arugula when they are young. Its leaves are broad and lobed like Arugula but are covered with tiny hairs.
The differences are obvious as it grows up to 16-79 inches (40-200 cm), much taller than typical arugula.
And it blooms with small yellow flowers.
Wild mustard is edible and is often used as a spice or green.
8. Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
Both Sorrel and Arugula are small annual plants with leaves radiating out from the base of the plant in a rosette.
The main difference is the shape of the leaves. Arugula leaves are lobed, while Sorrel leaves are smooth and not serrated.
Their flowers are also different: Sorrel produces small flowers that turn from green to a reddish-brown, while Arugula produces small white flowers.
Sorrel is edible but has a tangy, lemony flavor, unlike Arugula’s peppery flavor.
9. Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense)
The Creeping Thistle is part of the Asteraceae family, which is different from the Brassicaceae family that Arugula belongs to.
Although they both have long serrated leaves, Thistle’s leaves are prickly and spiny with a lance-shaped outline, unlike arugula’s soft, dandelion-like leaves.
Thistle is also a tall plant that can reach 1 to 4 feet (30.5 to 122 cm).
And the flowers are pink to purple and look like small fluffy balls clustered together at the top of the plant, which is quite different from the white, cross-shaped flowers of Arugula.
It is edible and is regarded as delicious, but the spines must be removed first.
10. Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum)
Just like Arugula, the Wild Radish is a flowering plant in the Brassicaceae family, thus both have small flowers that are shaped like a cross.
But the flowers of the Wild Radish can be yellow, white, or violet, while Arugula only has white flowers with purple veins.
However, the leaves of the Wild Mustard are broader, somewhat hairy, and more deeply lobed than those of Arugula.
Arugula leaves are generally smoother and narrower, with a dandelion-like shape. They have rounded tips, while Wild Mustard leaves have pointed tips.
11. Swine Wartcress (Coronopus didymus)
Swine Wartcress is in the same Brassicaceae family as arugula, which accounts for some similarities.
Both plants have their leaves growing in a rosette pattern.
But Swine Wartcress’ leaves are divided into many small lobes and are generally more intricate in shape than arugula leaves.
It is also a smaller plant that typically reaches 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30 cm) in height.
Its white to pale purple flowers are tiny and are arranged in clusters, unlike the singular, slightly larger flowers of Arugula.
It is an edible plant used in salads but its taste can be quite pungent and bitter.
These weeds each have their own special traits that can make you mix them up at first glance. But if you pay attention to the little differences, you can easily spot the real arugula from the bunch.
Keep an eye out for things like how big they are, what their leaves look like, and the color of their flowers. That’ll help you tell them apart. Always play it safe before deciding to eat any plant.
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