Monday, February 22, 2010

A New Perspective on Weeds

Old Man Winter isn't done yet. A little more snow has fallen, then rain, and a chance for more snow mid-week, all creating one big mess. While I enjoy seeing the magical wintry scenes of bloggers in the South, where snow is a novelty, I have become jaded about winter's beauty in my own backyard. Venturing outside is limited to necessities such as walking Sophie, and trudging through 2-3 foot frozen snowbanks with a 70-pound dog in tow--make that a dog with me in tow--is not very conducive to taking photos anyway.

But looking at some photos taken in the last few weeks of weeds and stubborn wild vines encased in ice has inspired me. Instead of dwelling on winter, I've taken Gail's suggestion and done some browsing through the photo archives, finding the photos for a post I never got around to publishing. Instead of dwelling on winter, let's think about August, shall we?

Several times this past summer I visited one of my favorite nearby places, Meadowbrook Park. Walking around the Prairie Restoration area, whether alone or with Beckie or Sophie, I stopped to admire the native wildflowers, such as the gray coneflowers pictured above.

Over time, and with the help of the book Illinois Wildflowers by Dan Kurz, I was able to identify more of the wildflowers each time, such as this ironweed. The book was initially checked out of the library, renewed, returned, then checked out and renewed again until I finally broke down and bought my own copy this winter. A handy reference like this that is specific to my area is well worth the money spent.

No book or internet search was necessary, however, to identify wild carrot, more poetically known as Queen Anne's Lace. This wildflower, or weed depending on your point of view, grows everywhere here and is a common sight along roadsides during the summer.

Inspired by the natives at Meadowbrook, I decided to take a look around my own yard for wildflowers. The past summer was an ideal one for the garden, with cooler than normal temperatures and a regular supply of rainfall. Perennials that don't like our hot and humid Illinois summers thrived, and watering the garden was seldom necessary, other than the containers and new plants. But it also meant it was an ideal summer for weeds as well!

Daily walks with Sophie around the farm made me stop and notice for the first time some of the weeds--er, wildflowers--growing around the outbuildings, and I decided to try to identify them. Photo breaks provided the perfect opportunities to practice Sophie's "halt/sit" commands for puppy classes. Besides the Queen Anne's Lace, the chicory in this and the previous photo is an easy one to identify. Farmers would definitely call this a weed, but Sophie and I like the delicate blue flowers.

The next weed I really took notice of was this thistle. Thistle is a common sight in any true prairie planting, but it's not welcome on a farm. Canadian thistle, brought to this area in an experiment that went wrong, is considered a noxious weed. I'm not sure if this is field thistle or tall thistle; they are all members of the Asteraceae family.

The thistle is a favorite of bees and later in the season of goldfinches. Sorry about the blurry photo, but it's the only one I had of a bee on the bloom; I never managed to get one of a goldfinch, but just imagine the color combination of a bright yellow bird atop this pink seedhead.

No wonder the finch feeder didn't need to be refilled that often; with all the available seeds au naturelle here, there was plenty to keep them all happy. Note the wispy thistledown which means there will be even more of these plants here next year--not a good thing, unfortunately.

Even with a reference book and several good websites, identifying these weeds is not easy, especially when you are looking at six-month old photos. This plant appeared to be another kind of thistle, because of the prickles on its leaves, but I couldn't find any reference showing a thistle that looked like this, with its yellow blooms.

Another mystery behind the barn--perhaps a wild parsnip? My husband would be appalled if he knew I were posting photos of all these weeds. But in his defense, it was hard to keep up with everything around the place this summer. Mowing is an all-day job here with over five acres of lawn, and frequent rains made it even more difficult. Although I trim around the house and the garden areas, the back areas are Husband's domain. To make matters worse, the heavy-duty gas-powered trimmer spent much of the summer in the repair shop.

So, if you can't beat 'em, you might as well enjoy them, right? Especially this weed that surprised me one day by producing delicate yellow blooms. This one really has me puzzled--I have nothing in any source that resembles this weed.

Even the beetles liked it.

Not nearly as attractive is this weed, which might be pigweed. An interesting bit of trivia is that many of the common names for these weeds have animal names in them--pigweed, chickweed, horseweed, horsenettle, lambs' quarters, and dogbane, just to name a few. I have no idea why; just thought it was interesting.

Grasses are even harder for me to distinguish. While this grass made an interesting photo, it's definitely not the kind you would want to cultivate in your garden.

But no book of photos is needed to identify some weeds. Summers spent as a teenager helping my father "walk beans," that is, pulling out all the weeds in acres and acres of soybeans, not only taught me the names of some of these weeds but also taught me to hate them as well. Smartweeds, like those above, can be prolific.

Even worse are buttonweeds, also known as velvetleaf.

But the worst of all are these innocuous-looking pink buds. If you don't recognize this weed, it's a cockleburr; trust me, this is a weed you don't want anywhere. Brush up against the dried seedheads, and you'll find burrs embedded in your clothes, your gardening gloves, and in dog's fur. The only upside I can find to this weed is that it supposedly was the inspiration for Velcro, although according to Wikipedia, it was a relative, burdock, that was the actual origin.

The adage about a weed being "a plant in the wrong place" is certainly true. For any of you who have spent considerable money on a nice cultivar of goldenrod, notice this one--this goldenrod is growing through a crack in concrete!

Morning Glories live up to their name, with this illuminated blossom showing up just after dawn last summer. But it's not such a welcome sight to the farmer when it's winding its way up the cornstalks in the field as this one was doing.

Weeds or wildflowers? It's all in your perspective and their placement, I guess. While these interesting specimens may not survive for long this summer, if Mr. P has his way, I do hope these unnamed daisies manage to stay for awhile. Growing at will next to a shed, they make me smile, even if they are weeds.

"A weed is but an unloved flower." Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Update: Thank you to all of you who expressed concern over my father's recent stroke and surgery. He was finally able to come home from the hospital this past week and is recovering slowly, but surely.


  1. So many of your weeds are old friends and enemies in my garden too - your pictures show their beauty. I've foolishly let that cockle burr plant grow in the past - it attacks anything within three feet!
    Happy for your news about your father.

  2. Good news about your father Rose. I must have missed that post, so sorry not to have known before.

    You are right about thinking about the summer, it is all that will keep us going through this unbearably long winter! Snow is falling here AGAIN! Not nearly as bad as you get it but just as depressing!!

    Lovely photos as always, so looking forward to the warmth that they invoke.

    S :)

  3. Rose, I loved the quote, but seriously doubt Wilcox ever had to deal with cockleburr or smart weed. :) Your determination to identify all your wildflowers(weeds) is admirable though and a good way to spend the latest round of winter.
    Your photos are really good-I would take them alng to your Master Gardener classes and see what they can tell you about the ones you can't name. I imagine you will even have a section on them.

    And...thanks again for a lovely day Friday. Just like old times where we had the whole day to spend together just enjoying. :)

  4. You always have such interesting things in your garden. I have a job to find anything worth snapping.
    Glad to hear that your father is making a good recovery.

    Nuts in May

  5. What with this long cold winter coming to an end I am looking forward to seeing even these weeds soon. I had to laugh when I saw that Horseweed. I nutured one of those in my flower bed out front for a long time before I realized what it was. Ha... It does have interesting structure. Glad to hear your Dad is on the mend. Give Sophie a pat for me. She looks so pretty.

  6. I have adopted quite a few
    weeds found attractive in my
    humble, unique 120 species garden.

    See later...NICE BLOG..

  7. You're right Rose. It doesn't matter if they are weeds or flowers as long as you like them.

    Thanks for taking us back to August and letting us see some sunny, colorful pics. Hopefully we will be seeing that again soon.

  8. Haha, I was going to say 'One man's weed is another man's flower' your quote better.
    I hate that Smartweed!!! it floated in a few years ago and has taken over one of my garden beds. BAH!!

  9. First and most importantly, I am so pleased to read your Dad is improving and hope things continue that way.

    The W definitely stands for wild flower and not weed for me Rose, in fact I am planning on incorporating more Ws into my garden this time in the hope of attracting more wildlife. Of course it could just turn into a mess!

    Those burrs are a real nuisance and frequently have to be prised from Louis's head and ears, I swear they jump out as he passes ;)

    It has been a treat to see all the lovely colours of Summer in this post Rose, we really do need some reminders at the moment. We have had more snow but thankfully it hasn't stayed long.

  10. Hi Rose, I recognize many old friends here too. I think your mystery yellow flower is Missouri primrose. I have it here too and really actually like it. I let it grow in my woodland garden. That book you bought will be well worth it. Great resources when they are printed and written locally. Good news about your father. I know you and your family must be most relieved he is back home.

  11. Hi Rose, it's always hard to remember that all our cultivated plants started out as a weed somewhere. The Queen Ann's Lace, goldenrod and the chickory are some of my favorites. So pretty. I'm thinking about adding a little bed up by the barns and putting these wild flowers in it. They are surely cast iron plants that require no care and have no pests.

  12. I love Chicory -- that blue color is unique. We have a lot of Thistle here too and the Goldfinches make good use of it!

  13. Loved this trip through your photos
    I hate cockleburr..I have ruined many a clothing on that plant...
    but I love wildflowers
    I guess it goes with the territory
    Daisy fleabane..I think that is the daisy
    If it weren't for "weeds" many a bird would go hungry and butterflies would perish

  14. Rose, Yes I see so many wild weeds in my yard and I too snap photos of them, alot of yours are similuar to mine.
    I kinda miss the snow up here this year, seems like we have been bare for a while. Storm this week but like you all rain to follow. We usually have the amout you all have, winter has gone south!
    Glad your father is doing better.

  15. love it... I love when weeds are just flowers sprouting where we least expect them!

  16. After reading your post, I was wondering if someone just took macro photos of the flowers of weeds, and did not reveal that they were weeds, what would people think? I love your pictures, especially the coneflower.

  17. You know Rose...there are folks who consider The Susans to be weeds! They don't like its yellow flowers or it's assertive behavior~ My neighbor thinks columbine is a weedy plant but just planted vinca! It's all in one's perspective. I am glad you decided to vacation in the archives...Isn't it amazing! I found photos that i thought weren't good enough to share...but now, on a cold rainy day are simply lovely. Thank you for the shout out~Take care....gail

  18. Ironweed is one of my faves. I grow it next to my front door; it's about 7 feet tall and it matches my purple door. I need to dig through my MOBOT photos, edit them, and do that post!

  19. Rose, I hope you and Sophie don't have to wait too long for lovely spring weather and lovely spring flowers to enjoy!

  20. Cyndy, It's hard to keep up with all the weeds around here, but some of them do have their own charm...except those darned cockle burrs!

    Suburbia, I can't believe all the snow you've had this year! Yes, I am sooo ready for spring.

    Beckie, Great idea to take these mystery photos to the MG classes. I had a great time Friday, too; now if the garden centers would just get some flowers in!

    Maggie May, Garden bloggers have given me so much inspiration for finding something to photograph. Two years ago I never would have thought of photographing weeds:)

    Lisa, I've nurtured many an unknown plant only to realize finally it was a weed:) Sophie says thank you.

    Antigonum, Many times the definition of a weed depends on the person looking at it.

    Susie, Looking at some colorful pictures from the summer did cheer me up--I'm tired of brown and white photos:)

    Janet, Why is it that weeds can tolerate all kinds of conditions, but the plants we really want to cultivate need babying. I could have a smartweed/cockleburr/thistle garden without any work:)

    Shysongbird, There are many "weeds" that I think are beautiful. But those darned cockleburrs! Sophie has had several run-ins with them; no fun picking them out gently from her fur.

    Tina, Thanks for the suggestion on the Missouri primrose--I will look that one up! I also have a book on Illinois birds; the regional books seem more useful to me because I'm not wading through photos of something I probably wouldn't find here.

    Marnie, That's a good point that all plants started wild somewhere. Queen Anne's Lace and chicory are two of my favorites, and all the prairie areas I've seen include them, so I don't consider them "weeds."

  21. I love the goldenrod growing through the concrete! It's funny how some plants walk such a fine line between cultivated flowers and weeds. I'm missing spring so much I think I'd be happy to see weeds at this point!

  22. Sweet Bay, I wish I had gotten a photo of the finches on the thistle; they loved it!

    Suz, Thanks for the i.d. on the fleabane; I wasn't sure. Good point about the birds enjoying many of these natives.

    Dawn, It's been a strange year--strange that Maine of all places has had less snow.

    Dirty Girl, I often mistake a weed in my garden for a budding flower:)

    Noelle, I agree; a close-up shows only their pretty side. I love those coneflowers, too!

    Gail, I can't imagine thinking of Susans and columbines as weeds, but I know some of the natives I've planted, too, aren't appreciated by everyone. Looking at my summer photos was so much better than plowing through more snow photos!

    Monica, I've only seen the ironweed at the park, but it's beautiful! No pressure here, but yes, I want to see MOBOT!

    Cindy, I'm getting tired of trudging through frozen snowdrifts on our walks:)

    Rose, I agree there is a fine line here...I would love to see something green growing, too!

  23. White snow made the ground be happy when I see these scenes of nature always beautiful

    I wish you a beautiful day

  24. Glad to hear of your father's steady recovery.

    Weeds can be beautiful, even while we despise the work they make us do. Those smartweeds make me cringe. They grow everywhere here, and I'll never be done yanking them up. And the goldenrods are colonizing the whole slope of the hill where there's lots of sun. It made me wonder, who would purchase such a thing?

  25. Rose, What did someone say... that weeds are just flowers in the wrong spot? ;-) Sometimes one can't tell the difference! Aren't we looking forward to Spring??? I think our hearts will be so happy.

  26. Wonderful post! Weeds or flowers hum, does make one think a bit doesn’t it...
    I well remember those cockleburs. I once got them stuck in my hair as a child and I never forgot that weed or the pain from my mother yanking them out. Ouch!

  27. I'm so glad your Dad is recovering nicely. Such a worry!

    I love all your weeds - and I like to call them wildflowers too. Your blurred thistle pic with the bee on top is sweet - sometimes blurry photos look like magic!

    Nice to be back in August - thanks for the "walk".

  28. Dear Rose,
    I am a lover of the wild flowers.
    I think the native to my area flowers are so pretty and many are the host plants for the butterflies and moths. That makes them fantastic plants! Some are great for dyeing and for eating.
    The bids also love the seeds and the berries of the poke weed draw the Mockingbirds and Cardinals in.
    As you said it is just a matter of perspective.
    I also am winter weary. The ice has been pretty these last few sunny cold days. I have bundled up and sat with the birds and the glitter. I do so miss the bees!

  29. Hi, Rose;
    Love that quote and happy to hear that your father is doing well.

    Our master gardening group created little stepping stones that say "All My Weeds are Wildflowers." I have them peppered all over the garden. And, tend to move them to places where I'm behind with the weeding. :)

  30. It’s a nasty storm and coming our way. We only have rain. I love these images of weeds in snow and in ice. I actually like them better than the summer shots, which feel totally alien now. I love that Wilcox quotation. I’m so happy to hear that your father is home. What a relief!

  31. Good, good, good, post, Rose! You have hit the nail on the head regarding 'weeds'.

  32. It's amazing how pretty most of those "weeds" are. They just need to be in the right place. Even the cocklebur is pretty but I'll take your word on how nasty it is. So glad to hear your dad is home now.

  33. I've got the Kurz book too, bought it at the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. Mr. Kurz is a Saluki, through and through! Woof! I like the way he groups the flowers, by color, and the bits of herb lore he provides. It's so much more than an ID book. Your post is a great break from the cold, harsh days of winter, Rose. Yes; we're experiencing a taste of it too.

  34. I thought your winter pictures beautiful, but I also understand your weariness with the weather. I loved your primer on weeds. I have learned so many weeds I did not have a name for--well, not one I could print, anyway. ;-)

    I am so glad to hear your father is making good progress.

  35. Tamer, Glad you enjoyed the snow!

    Meredith, I agree--I don't enjoy weeding. Goldenrod has grown on me, though, and I actually like this wild variety.

    Shady, I'm running out of photos to post--too tired of finding beauty in the snow:)

    Skeeter, oh, yes, ouch is the word! Just ask Sophie:)

    Wendy, Thanks for appreciating the blurry photo--I tried so hard to get a few of the bees and the finches on the thistle with little luck.

    Sherry, That's a good point I didn't mention--so many of these natives are valuable to wildlife. Also, many of them were used by Native Americans for many different things, esp. medicinal.

    Kate, I need some stepping stones like that!

    Sarah, I must say I prefer snow to rain in the winter. I don't like ice!

    Joey, Thanks! Some weeds are actually quite pretty, aren't they?

  36. Jean, yes, placement is all. Trust me, though, on the cockleburr...

    W2W, I checked out several different books before deciding on Kurz's book; I agree, I like the way he groups plants by color--so much easier for!

    MG, Winter and snow aren't so interesting after you've had months of it. Yes, I've heard a few of those other names for weeds, too:)

  37. I'm glad to hear good news about your dad.
    I recognize those weeds, and even know the names of many of them. I try not to let them go to seed, but if you do, you may as well appreciate their attributes.

  38. If the birds ate all the seeds off about 6 thistle plants I wouldn't object to the thistle which is beautiful, but I used to take the grandchildren on thistle patrol and I haven't seen any recently.


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.