Brassicaceae, or Cruciferaeis, a medium-sized and economically important family of flowering plants commonly known as the mustards, the crucifers, or the cabbage family. Most are herbaceous plants, some shrubs, with simple, although sometimes deeply incised, alternatingly set leaves without stipules or in leaf rosettes, with terminal inflorescences without bracts, containing flowers with four free sepals, four free alternating petals, two short and four longer free stamens, and a fruit with seeds in rows, divided by a thin wall (or septum).
The family contains 372 genera and 4,060 accepted species. The largest genera are Draba (440 species), Erysimum (261 species), Lepidium (234 species), Cardamine (233 species), and Alyssum (207 species).
Species belonging to the Brassicaceae are mostly annual, biennial, or perennial herbaceous plants, some are dwarf shrubs or shrubs, and very few vines. Although generally terrestrial, a few species such as water awlwort live submerged in fresh water. They may have a taproot or a sometimes woody caudex that may have few or many branches, some have thin or tuberous rhizomes, or rarely develop runners. Few species have multi-cellular glands. Hairs consist of one cell and occur in many forms: from simple to forked, star-, tree- or T-shaped, rarely taking the form of a shield or scale. They are never topped by a gland. The stems may be upright, rise up towards the tip, or lie flat, are mostly herbaceous but sometimes woody. Stems carry leaves or the stems may be leafless (in Caulanthus), and some species lack stems altogether. The leaves do not have stipules, but there may be a pair of glands at base of leafstalks and flowerstalks. The leaf may be seated or have a leafstalk. The leaf blade is usually simple, entire or dissected, rarely trifoliolate or pinnately compound. A leaf rosette at the base may be present or absent. The leaves along the stem are almost always alternately arranged, rarely apparently opposite. The stomata are of the anisocytic type.
Flowers may be arranged in racemes, panicles, or corymbs, with pedicels sometimes in the axil of a bract, and few species have flowers that sit individually on flower stems that spring from the axils of rosette leaves. The orientation of the pedicels when fruits are ripe varies dependent on the species. The flowers are bisexual, star symmetrical (zygomorphic in Iberis and Teesdalia) and the ovary positioned above the other floral parts. Each flower has four free or seldomly merged sepals, the lateral two sometimes with a shallow spur, which are mostly shed after flowering, rarely persistent, may be reflexed, spreading, ascending, or erect, together forming a tube-, bell- or urn-shaped calyx. Each flower has four petals, set alternating with the sepals, although in some species these are rudimentary or absent. They may be differentiated into a blade and a claw or not, and consistently lack basal appendages. The blade is entire or has an indent at the tip, and may sometimes be much smaller than the claws. The mostly six stamens are set in two whorls: usually the two lateral, outer ones are shorter than the four inner stamens, but very rarely the stamens can all have the same length, and very rarely species have different numbers of stamens such as sixteen to twenty four in Megacarpaea, four in Cardamine hirsuta, and two in Coronopus. The filaments are slender and not fused, while the anthers consist of two pollen producing cavities, and open with longitudinal slits. The pollen grains are tricolpate. The receptacle carries a variable number of nectaries, but these are always present opposite the base of the lateral stamens.
Brassicaceae are almost exclusively pollinated by insects. A chemical mechanism in the pollen is active in many species to avoid selfing. Most species reproduce sexually. In some species seed pods open with force and so catapult the seeds quite far. Many of these have sticky seed coats, assisting long distance dispersal by animals, and this may also explain several intercontinental dispersal events and its near global distribution. Brassicaceae are common on serpentine and dolomite rich in magnesium. Over a hundred species in the family accumulate heavy metals, particularly zinc and nickel, which is a record percentage. Several Alyssum species can accumulate nickel up to 0.3% of their dry weight, and may be useful in soil remediation or even bio-mining.