Friday, May 8, 2009

A Weed By Any Other Name...

. . . would smell as sweet?

Sign in the Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix Arizona

It's been a beautiful week here in central Illinois with mostly sunny skies and warm temperatures--the perfect time for working in the garden. I'd like to say that I've gotten a lot done, but the truth is, I haven't. There are so many projects I have planned this spring that I'm a bit overwhelmed. Each day I work as much as possible outside until my energy is exhausted, and by evening I'm ready for bed by 8 PM! Meanwhile, the weeds are growing like . . . well, weeds:)

We all recognize this weed, of course, but I have trouble recognizing many other weeds. I have been known to let an unfamiliar shoot of green grow for a couple of months, hoping it might turn into a flower I had forgotten I'd planted, only to have my mother tell me that it was some type of weed. My gardening philosophy has become "if I don't know what it is, and it's not bothering anything, I'm going to leave it alone."

Many people spend a small fortune eradicating dandelions so they can have a lush lawn. I pull the dandelions that have wandered into my flowerbeds or that have managed to take root in the landscaping rock around the house. But our yard is much too large to worry about killing the dandelions there. Besides, what would my grandchildren have to pick for a "bouquet" if we didn't have any dandelions?

The same is true for all the violets. I don't really want them in my flowerbeds, so I am constantly pulling them there. But they are so pretty and dainty that I leave them alone elsewhere; they're certainly preferable to other, much uglier weeds.

Here's one of the many weeds, though, that I can't identify. It is growing in what I call the "back forty" near the farm outbuildings. In mid-April it was topped with these delicate purple blooms. Does anyone know what it is?

Nearby is another unknown weed that likes to grow around the edges of concrete structures like the old cistern. Lately, I've noticed it creeping into the lawn as well. After seeing a post of Racquel's about ajuga, or bugleweed, I thought perhaps that is what this is. However, after googling bugleweed and finding some images, I don't think it is. Any i.d.'s on this one?

Blogging has given me a serious case of "plant envy." One of the many plants I saw on blogs last summer that I coveted was goldenrod. Imagine my surprise last fall when I discovered I had several plants already! Oh, I know this isn't the hybrid cultivar that gardeners plant, but rather the "weed" that grows freely around this area. These were all growing near an area with the fuel tanks; in fact, one was growing through a crack in the concrete! Please don't enlarge this photo--you're apt to see some junk in the background:) Actually, I've been planning a flowerbed back in this area with lots of natives and plants to attract butterflies, so I decided to leave the goldenrod alone. We'll see how it turns out.

One man's weed is another one's flower.--Me

Last month while visiting the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson, my husband called me over. "Rose, come look at this--can you believe this?!" He pointed to this sign for a planting of milkweeds, shaking his head in disbelief. To a farmer, a milkweed is just one of the many nemeses in a soybean field, something to be pulled or sprayed immediately before it spreads, choking out the beans. I tried to tell him that milkweeds are hosts to butterfly larvae, and that gardeners plant different varieties to attract the butterflies. He knew about the attraction to butterflies, but wasn't convinced they should be planted at all. I think I'll just tell him I'm planting asclepias in my garden; any more information might send his blood pressure soaring:)

A few weeks ago, Beckie stopped by, and I proudly showed off all my tulips that were in bloom then. I pointed out this weed growing near the house that I'd never seen before. Neither of us knew what it was, but both agreed it was pretty. We thought it might be some kind of wildflower . . .wrong!! While reading the weekly gardening column last Saturday by our local horticultural expert from the county Extension Office, I had an unpleasant revelation. This little "wildflower" is actually garlic mustard.

According to columnist Sandra Mason, garlic mustard "has been the scourge of forested areas for years but now has moved into gardens." It is native to Europe, but "here in the Midwest, it loves the partial shade of our deciduous forests and backyard gardens, where it can literally blanket the ground and choke out other plants in its path." Seeds germinate in early spring, sending up a 2 1/2 to 3-foot tall flower stalk with small, four-petaled white flowers.

Even Mason admitted the flowers are "pretty," but the danger of garlic mustard is its invasiveness and effects on other plant life:

  • "Because of its ability to dominate relatively undisturbed forests, garlic mustard has led to the decline of populations of native plants and the insects and animals that rely on them. Not only does garlic mustard shade out other plants, but it also produces chemicals that can keep other plants from growing around it. It's definitely a bully biennial in the forest or the garden." ("Waging war on the garlic mustard weed," The News-Gazette, 2 May 2009)

Mason recommends using weed-killers such as Roundup (glyphosate) to kill the weeds or hand-pulling them and then removing the plants from the site so that seeds do not germinate.

Looks like this little "pretty" has got to go! While some weeds may find a home here where this gardener is too tired to pull them, garlic mustard will not be one of them. Please pardon me if I get behind in blog reading the next few days--I have some weeding to do!

Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be. Some people find in it a kind of soothing monotony. It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartee with which they should have encountered a relative's latest example of unreasonableness.
~Christopher Lloyd, The Well-Tempered Garden, 1973

When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant. ~Author Unknown


  1. I know the one weed that has the little purple blooms is Henbit. It is the scourge of farmers around here. You can see whole fields full of the stuff before they plow it under. It is beautiful when the field looks like a purple carpet but it is not a good plant to encourage. It can smother other plants.

    I have seen that mustard in the most unusual places. It seems to be everywhere. UGH...

    I have that goldenrod you show in my garden. The bees, butterflies and bugs LOVE it.

  2. I agree about he garlic mustard. It is killing our native wild flowers. I've read the roots produce a chemical that will eventually kill young trees. It's very difficult to hand weed, it just breaks off and grows back. (If you do hand pull some, you can cook with it or eat it in salads.) It's really great that you brought that to everyone's notice.

    I'm adding golden rod to the garden this year but it is abundant in the fields around me. Very beautiful.

  3. Henbit the first weed for sure, maybe a ground ivy for the second? Not sure. I don't think I've seen that garlic mustard. Very pretty-though I'm with you-it's got to go!

    I tried the hybrid goldenrod, it did not like my garden. But boy oh boy does the wild kind ever! I let it grow in some areas, but I have to be careful as those shoots underground can really spread. Same with Queen Anne's lace. What an issue. Good wildlife plants for sure though. As for me though, dandelions and violets must go!:)

  4. Some of these weeds are very pretty and I don't mind some of them growing in odd corners of the garden, but they need careful weeding so that they don't take over. I suppose ANYTHING that grows where you don't want it to grow could be classed as a weed.
    My garden is a mess again. This time with scaffolding around & over the kitchen for the impending alterations. This has taken over a third of the garden, as it isn't very big.
    Luckily things do spring back to life fairly quickly but why do scaffolders always put something on top of a precious plant?

  5. Lisa, Aha! So that is henbit! I've read about other people pulling it out; now I know I'd better get busy on that, too. This is the first year I've noticed the garlic mustard around here, and I hope it's the last:)

    Marnie, The article I mentioned did say that you could cook the mustard. I'm not sure my family would like it, though:) I just came in from pulling all of it; fortunately, it was growing in some rocks and was easy to pull. Why is it that weeds self-seed so well, but not my flowers?:)

    Tina, I certainly wouldn't plant anything that I knew to be invasive. I love Queen Anne's Lace, but I'll just admire it from afar:) We'll see how much goldenrod I allow to grow back there this fall. I've just come in from pulling dandelions and violets:)

    Maggie May, I agree--I try to keep up with the weeds as much as I can, because they do seem to take over the garden otherwise. I can sympathize with your construction problems. The last time we had our roof replaced, the workers trampled one whole flowerbed!

  6. There are some weeds that I am crazy about too! I think they settle into cracks and crevices and add a bit of charm to an otherwise sterile garden! Nice post!

  7. Rose, we always called the other unidentified weed creeping charlie, though I don't know if we were right. It does kind of take over. In a town lawn you would probably want to eradicate it, but out where you are, I don't know if it would be worth it.

    I'm with you about violets. I was brought many a "bouquet" of violets and clover by my daughter, though she quickly learned that dandelions made mommy have a sneezing fit!

  8. Hi Rose, If you have the space there is nothing wrong with good old goldenrod! The bees still love it and it will give you lots of color! Are you taking recommendations? If you can get your hands on New York It will look great back there and if you're lucky it might bloom when the goldenrods do!

    Regarding, the henbit if you can tolerate it do, it's an important food source for pollinators.

    Have a great time weeding in the garden...gail

  9. OMG....get rid of the creeping charlie asap!!!!

    and the garlic mustard makes a good flavoring for meat.

  10. I was taught that the definition of a weed is 'a plant out of place'.

    I know the weeds are starting to take over in my yard; hopefully I'll have a bit of time on Sunday after work to take care of some of them. Fortunately, the doctor is happy with the progress of my back. I'll definitely take it easy though; I'd let the weeds take over before I'd take a chance on hurting my back again!

  11. Hi Rose.......I know all of the wildflowers you show.....we have different names for them....

    The first is dead nettle. It is not invasive here......I actually grow it in the garden for the bees and have trouble keeping it (rabbits love it).....

    The second flower is identical to our Germander grows all around my garden and is another good bee plant. Now this is invasive but is easy to pull, so I do not consider it a problem....

    The last one you show, we call Jack in the Hedge.....if you crush the leaves you can smell garlic. Again it pulls readily, so is not a huge problem....

    I suppose at the end of the day it is how you view things......I have a relaxed attitude (rightly or wrongly).....if I like a wildflower, or the bees like it, it stays.....

    I look forward to seeing your bee and butterfly garden. Goldenrod is does not do well here unfortunately, I would jump at the chance to grow it.......

    Have a good weekend.....and enjoy pulling the weeds, good therapy I am told.......

  12. Hi Rose, sorry I haven't been around much lately.

    I love your philosophy on weeds! All yours look very pretty, I like to think of them as wild flowers.


    S x

  13. We here in Michigan call the weed you wanted an ID for mountain mint, but when I Google it, the photo that comes up isn't right. I can get the Latin name as soon as my friend returns from vacation! (She knows everything). Busy posting week for you! :)

  14. Well I definitely don't want any of that garlic mustard invading my beds. Besides, I already have too many weeds in there, there isn't any room for it.

    If I tried to pull all my weeds all you would never hear from me again.

  15. Rose, very interesting post. I had no idea about the garlic mustard weed. Boy were we wrong! I haven't seen any of it in my gardens yet, but will keep a close watch. I see henbit has been identified. In the fields around here I think it looks like heath or heather blooming. I am sure the farmers are not as appreciative of i as I am. :) The blue one is Commo Field Speedwell. I also have that one. :(
    I didn't realise that both of these provided food and energy for bees and butterflies-I should have though. So I will leave some in the less noticeable places in the garden. But I am going to plant lots of real bloomers for them also. We might even see some good insect attracters at the Herb show.

  16. I know what you hubby means about the Milkweed Rose. I planted a native variety called Whorled Milkweed last summer & it has been popping up everywhere. It colonizes. I just keep pulling the ones I don't want. ;) Glad you got some help with the weed ids. I knew the first one was Henbit, get that one all the time, but the creeping charlie was a new one on me.

  17. Sheila, I like your attitude!:)

    Joyce, So far the creeping charlie is confined to one area, so for now I won't worry about it. I'd forgotten about the "bouquets" of violets; I've gotten them, too.

    Gail, Thanks for the info. Just goes to show that many "weeds" do have some values.

    Nickie, You're scaring me!:) The creeping charlie is in a confined far.

    Laura, I've heard that quote before, too, and I think it's true. Glad to hear you're doing better; the weeds will still be there when you're up to weeding:)

    Cheryl, Thank you for all the interesting info! I didn't know about the bees' attraction to these "weeds." The two blue ones I'm not going to worry about unless they start spreading to other areas. Hope you have a good weekend, too.

    Suburbia, That's quite all right; I haven't been keeping up with blog reading as well lately either. I think wildflowers sounds much better than weeds:)

  18. Monica, I think there must be different names for many weeds, depending on where you live. When I was a girl I knew the names of every weed that I had to pull out of my Dad's beanfields, but not those in the garden. I don't think I'll be posting three times a week very often:)

    Susie, That's one way of keeping a weed out of your garden:) If I spent as much time weeding as I should, I'd never have time for anything else, either!

    Beckie, I was going to tell you about that article--I read her column every Saturday. Looking forward to tomorrow!

    Racquel, I don't know if whorled milkweed is the same as the milkweed that grows wild around here, but I pulled enough of that out of my Dad's beanfields to never want one in my garden:) They are like dandelions--seeds blow everywhere!

  19. Hee, hee, hee! I loved your last quote--I have certainly found it to be true! I love Goldenrod too. I think it has gotten a bad rap. I have been inundated by Henbit beginning last Fall. It seems they come in waves.

    Be careful not to overdo, Rose. I know the feeling of getting behind in the garden--and life! But it will be there waiting for you tomorrow (or the next day).

  20. This was thought provoking. I don't know if it was meant to be, but it was : ).

  21. Ha, I know about letting new little shoots grow hoping they'll turn into some gorgeous flower dropped by the wind. One year, I let an unknown grow and grow but it finally got so tall and ugly I pulled it out. On the bottom was a peanut in a shell. Of course, I tried replanting it hoping to get a whole bag of peanuts, but it didn't like being pulled up and died:))

  22. You and I have some similiar pests in the garden. My garlic mustard is mostly in the little woods behind the house. I can't believe how it is taking over. I use the weed wacker every week to cut it down...hand pull what I can and have just about given up. I have planted wildflower seeds in the same area and wish the mustard would leave. We live in a naturally woodsy area with forest preserves nearby and the river too. It's everywhere. Our forest preserve and botanic gardens have days set aside for volunteers to come and participate in the annual garlic "pull" Good luck with your weed pulling.

  23. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I love our name; you don't run into too many others who have it. Looks like you've got a lot of gardening work planned. My husband is the gardener in our family; I mostly mess around with pots.

  24. Rose: This was quite the informative post on weeds! A few I recognize but a few I've never heard of..Mustard what!!((( Get rid of it for sure!!)))
    Wishing you a wonderful Mother's Day surrounded by love. hugs NG

  25. Oh Rose, this post just resonated with me. I completely feel the same way you do. I often let plants grow for a while to see (hope, hope) whether it will turn out to be a beautiful flower. But (sigh!) usually a weed, and an ugly one too.

    But I like your weeds! Dandelions are pretty. And they do make wonderful grandchild bouquets. Violets are lovely and dainty, as you pointed out and those purple flowers are very pretty. I can't i.d. any of those either.

    Have a wonderful weekend in your garden. Happy Mother's Day to you!

  26. MG, I've grown my share of weeds and pulled out my share of good plants:) I've been napping nearly every day!

    Life with Kaishon, I didn't realize I was being thought-provoking...maybe it's all in how you look at things?

    Flydragon, So sorry you didn't get the peanut tree you'd hoped for:) Hmmm, do peanuts even grow on trees??

    Balisha, I've never seen the garlic mustard before this year, but what you describe is exactly what the article warned about. Apparently it can choke the life out of everything else.

    Rose, I thought for a moment that was MY response:) I wish my husband liked to help garden! Of course, he is willing to pick tomatoes.

    Nature Girl, Just as I am learning more about plants, I am learning more about weeds:) Have a wonderful weekend!

    Wendy, My philosophy is if it doesn't bother me, I'll leave it alone. But I don't want the dandelions growing in the middle of my coneflowers! Hope you have a wonderful Mother's Day.

  27. Hi Rose, creeping charlie won't stay confined long. It spreads something awful, but it's incredibly easy to pull before it sinks its roots down into the soil all over and seeds it fool little flower heads off.

    Garlic mustard self seeds something awful - best to remove it before it blooms. I can attest to its invasiveness. I've seen how fast they can take over a garden. The good thing about both these weeds is they're easy to pull, especially when small. I've learned when it comes to these two weeds, pretty as they can be, an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.

    I hope you have a wonderful Mother's Day!

  28. At my house, daylilies are weeds. I just can't stop them from spreading. I even have daylilies in the back of the house, and last year there were none back there. Its an impressive plant.

    As for your mystery plant, I disagree about the henbit consensus. I think its Lamium purpureum (purple deadnettle). They are both in the mint family, but the deadnettle has more triangular leaves. When I was little we used to pick the 'flowers' and suck out the nectar from the little tubes. I don't exactly know why, but i am sure it had to do with eating with the faeries or something.

  29. Hi Rose, I like your attitude. Especially if it isn't bothering anything.....We are trying to be more like you, letting things stay if they are not bothering the other plants. We cannot win against the violets anyway, but I still pull them sometimes. I like the quote about pulling and if it comes out easily it is a valued plant, how true. Weed roots go to China. Goldenrod grows here too, I leave a few and pull the ones that are bothering others. :-)

  30. I forgot to mention, garlic mustard is a real problem here. Boo! Do you have a frost warning this evening too?

  31. Hi Rose,
    What fun to see an appreciation of weeds ;-]

    That blue-flowered one you thought was bugleweed is what we also called Creeping Charlie in IL - check this photo of Glechoma hederacea and see what you think.

    Wish I could remember where I read that like Burdock, Garlic mustard was a useful food plant in spring when the stored food was depleted and the crops were weeks away from producing edible food so the immigrants brought it with them. Supposedly you can trace the spread of garlic mustard along with the railroad.

    But its rich history didn't stop me from pulling up bushels of it!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  32. Thanks everyone for your comments. I seem to have been too busy lately pulling weeds and taking care of other gardening chores to keep up with blog reading. I do appreciate all the helpful advice!

  33. I agree with this sign ! beautiful photos !

  34. Hi again Rose (or should I say Rosalie?!), the folks who ID'd it as purple deadnettle are right. It's similar to henbit (they're both Lamium) but the henbit has pointier and scallop-ier leaves. Why the heck I thought it was called "mountain mint" I'll never know. (Sorry. I fixate on stuff like this. Today I'm volunteering at the master gardener hotline and had all sorts of cool resource books, so it was easy to find.)

  35. Hi Rose, check out this link:

    There's no doubt in my mind this is Creeping Charlie, or 'ground ivy', 'gill on the ground' or some even call it 'Creeping Jenny'!!!

    I have enjoyed everyone's comments about this 'weed'. I'm sure it's not dead nettle/lamium, at least not the kinds I've seen.

    I read about Garlic Mustard being dug up, little leaf by little leaf/weed--he he--and used as a salad or mixed as pesto...but I'd get it out! It looks painfully difficult to remove permanently, though;-(

    Hope you are well! Jan

  36. Hmm, not sure why this link didn't show up:

  37. Your question as to the unidentified weed in "the back forty" is called purple deadnettle.

  38. I believe the purple flowing plant you have shown is in fact not Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) but a very closely related species of the same genus Purple or Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum). Anyway, I am not certain but I believe they were introduced (a.k.a. invasive) from Eurasia. They are quite pretty in my opinion but are really quite a pain to deal with. Supposedly they make a good addition to salads so as you pull em' up you can at least make use of them I guess.

  39. Most all those weeds are actually wild edibles that all foragers look for, the garlic mustard, is great in salads or stews. It can be eaten raw or cooked the roots too have medicinal prperties that lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and a fever reducer, great for the lungs. The deadnettle is also great raw or cooked and a good immune system booster, the henbit is in the dead nettle family leaves flowers and stemsare edible raw or cooked even dried for a peppery flavor it also has medicinal prperties. Before you pull a weed, look it up you might have just found a new tastey food, spice, or medicine. :)

  40. Oh and the goldenrod leaves are edible, and flower seeds in most species are a food source, teas and extracts can be made from goldenrod. I am on fb as Debra Brooks and have a photo album dedicated to wild medicinal edibles if you want to learn some more or have any questions.


Thanks for stopping by. I love to hear from you, so please leave a comment. I'll try to reply here, but I'll definitely return the visit.