"Little n" Nasturtiums

I’m not sure how a few pictures of nasturtium growing in the vegetable garden and the idea to write a simple post about how easy this plant is to grow turned into a botanical jumble that took me through two plant families, but it did.

But I believe I have it all sorted it out now, starting with my nasturtiums which are actually Tropaeolum majus. They are in the Tropaeolaceae plant family, which includes just one genus and five species. Or maybe two genera and 92 species. Or three genera and 80 species. My sources do not agree.

Regardless, whether it is one, two, or three genera, it is a relatively small plant family and I will admit I had not heard of it, or remembered it, before today.

To further complicate matters, most people, me included, regularly use the common name “nasturtium” for T. majus even though “nasturtium” is also the Genus name for watercress, Nasturtium officinale. In fact, if you search for seeds for "little n" nasturtium using the genus name Tropaeolum, you will probably think no one has them anymore. You have to search for “nasturtium”.

And N. officinale, watercress, is in the plant family Brassicaceae, formerly known as Cruciferae, because the flowers generally have four petals that form a cross. If you insist on using common names, call this one the Mustard family. And call the Tropaeolaceae family the Nasturtium family, because that seems to be what it is commonly called, even though Nasturtium sp. are in the Mustard family. Apparently nasturtium means “nose-tweaker” which is what you do when you smell T. majus flowers because they smell like pepper.

Peppers, by the way, are in yet another plant family. I’m not going to say which one because I think two plant families in one blog post is quite enough.

Anyway, for the past two years, I’ve planted “little n” nasturtiums, Tropaeolum majus, around the edges of the raised beds in the vegetable garden. I like how they soften the hard edge of the boards around the beds. And though I don’t eat the flowers, they are edible.

T. majus (“little n” nasturtiums) are easy to grow from seeds. Soak the seeds overnight and sow directly in the garden after your last frost date in the spring. Supposedly they don’t transplant well, so you should sow them where you want them to grow. But I’ve had good success sowing mine inside in peat pots about four weeks before the last frost and planting them intact in the peat pot in the garden.

I planted three varieties this year: ‘Alaska Mix’ with variegated leaves shown below, and ‘Jewel Mix’ pictured above. I also planted ‘Black Velvet’, but I don’t see any “little n” nasturtiums blooming that I would call ‘Black Velvet’. I wonder what happened to them?

To summarize, because botanical families can be confusing...

“Little n” nasturtium is Tropaeolum majus in the Nasturtium family, Tropaeolaceae.

Watercress, “Big n” Nasturtium officinale, is in the Mustard family, Brassicaceae, formerly known as Crucuiferae.

And gardeners who care about this kind of stuff are known as Gardener eccentria in the family Geekaceae.

Any questions?


  1. I planted a bunch of the "little n" variety in various places this summer. I love the leaves and the flowers, but I have also yet to actually eat any.

    Perhaps bc I'm a bit annoyed with them. They are supposed to be "Fordhook Climbing" variety, but they have absolutely no intentions of climbing in any of the places I planted them, despite the lovely trellises I provided.

    Also, I have transplanted a few of mine recently (I started them indoors). After seeing they wouldn't climb, I moved a few to a more suitable place. After losing some leaves, they're all doing fine.

    LOVE the Alaska mix - I decided on Jewel Mix after looking at both, but may have to try that one next year.

  2. I just love Nasturtiums! I grew a new variety this year called 'Night & Day' and I just love them. I also tried some leaves and flowers in my salads this year- who knew they could add so much to a salad!

  3. Do you know when the Geekaceae family reunion will be? Both sides of my family are members.

  4. I'm growing some Alaska in my raised beds this year. The flowers and foliage are pretty, but what I like even better about them is that they seem to attract aphids (and thus Lady Beetles), keeping them away from my other veggies.

    I'm going to have to try the variegated form next year. Love them!

  5. I was sorting through my seed packets and came across a packet of Watercress. I was surprised to see its botanical name. I wonder if little n nasturtiums were called that because their leaves had the same peppery kind of taste as big N?

  6. I wonder if the little n nasturtiums were once considered to be big N Nasturtiums? You know how those taxonomists are.

    I'm growing Fordhook Favorites little n's this year. They're supposed to climb, but so far they're barely even sprawling.

  7. Good gracious. I didn't know all that. Thanks for taking on a stroll through those two families. I also planted Black Velvet. They bloomed an icky orange (and you know I like orange). Then, they promptly burned up in the heat. Good riddance. I also planted Empress of India (I think) and they were beautiful until recently. The blossoms taste like pepper by the way. Great post.~~Dee

  8. Big N little n, what begins with n? Dr. Seuss' ABC's are permanently tattooed in my brain after reading it to four kids ad nauseum, sorry. Once again you are full of information, Carol, I didn't know about watercress being the big N either. We do love those little ns here, with Alaska and Empress of India doing well. I love the leaves so much that we would grow them even without the flowers. :-)

  9. Because little n nasturtiums self seed for me, I planted seeds outside several weeks before last frost. They are doing just fine and I have a longer bloom season.

    Try stuffing the blossoms with cream cheese and give the end a twist. The cream cheese is a nice contrast to the peppery taste of the blossom. Of course, I think everything tastes better with cream cheese!

  10. Been a while since I tried nasturtiums. Maybe next year, using Earth Girl's method.

  11. Your 'Jewel Mix' little n's look a lot like the 'Vesuvius' seed packet that is still sitting in my pile of seed packets that I never got around to planting, because this is the first year ever that I've tried seeds, mainly because of reading blogs, mainly yours, during the winter, when I was thinking about such things! Maybe I'll plant them next year, although the packet says it only takes 32 days from the time seedlings appear...which still might give me time... My grandmother and mother were/are active members of the Geekaceae family; I am a descendent but pretty much mentally challenged (retarded) when it comes to names and such;-(

  12. PS I think the 'last' sentence in your blog header description should be the 'first' sentence. I like the flow better...but that's just my opinion! Don't want to over-step my blogging-etiquette boundaries; just a humble (forward, rude??) thought I'm passing on for your consideration;-)

  13. I have tried growing these several times but haven't had any luck. I really like the way they look. It is always fun to toss a flower into a salad especially when you are serving company.

  14. Little "n" nasturtiums are very easy to grow from seed - if you plant the seed, which I forgot to do this year. Thanks for sharing yours. That's the closest I'm going to get to them this year.

  15. I love nasturtiums, and have planted them everywhere in my garden, in pots, anyplace that would have them, they are growing beautifully.It is a no fail plant, and is so pretty and usefull, I have stuffed the flowers with a whipped herbed creme cheese for an appetizer.

  16. I think you're showing your true geek side with this post Carol! But actually, it's interesting information (or maybe that's my true geek side showing). Anyway, I do like nasturiums although they don't last long down here. I like how they look and their taste.


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