Weeds seem to be everywhere – popping out of sidewalks, blocking out more desirable plants and making a general nuisance of themselves.
As any gardener knows, there are countless types of weeds that might need extracted from a bed of petunias or row of radishes.
A wet spring is followed by a hot summer and – bam! – brambles and crabgrass have you surrounded.
Penn State’s turfgrass specialists list among the most common weeds the wild buckwheat (Polygonum convolvulus), chickweed (Stallaria media), white clover (Trifolium repens) and the yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris arcuata) – Latin names courtesy of the scientists at the College of Agricultural Sciences.
The popular morning-glory is technically a weed, as is goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), which can be especially troublesome for folks with allergies.
Weeds can have odd or humorous names – coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), cornmint (Mentha arvensis), dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus).
With a tip of the cap to the late British author Baroness Emma Orczy, there is a weed known as the scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis).
You can’t carry your belongings in it – or even a sheep – but there’s a common weed known as shepherds-purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris). I suppose you could carry some lambsquarter (Chenopodium album), however.
You would have to be well-schooled in plants to know there’s actually a Pennsylvania smartweed (Polygonum pennsylvanicum).
It would be quite a shock to encounter a ladysthumb (Polygonum persicaria) right there in the shrubbery bed.
And you might find snow on the mountain (Euphorbia marginata) even in the summertime – although folks in Kansas call it snow on the prairie.
The bristly starbur (Acanthospermum hispidum) just sounds like something you shouldn’t touch – just like the bull or Canada thistle.
Some weeds – such as the burdock – will cling to you and ride along in their bid to spread seeds and expand their empire.
Others – the dandelion, for example – might produce a lovely bloom, even as they’re sinking their stubborn roots so deep into the soil that you need an auger to get rid of them. Meanwhile, kids just love to blow those seeds from that flower all over the back yard – where even more suddenly appear.
And there are weeds – see Toxicodendron radicans, or poison ivy – that are downright dangerous.
There’s one weed I have been seeing – and pulling – in abundance this summer that has proven challenging to fully identify.
It grows straight and tall, given enough time (which I try not to provide). It sports broad leaves with little jaggers along the edges.
And fortunately, it has a fairly sturdy stem and shallow roots – perfect conditions for plucking.
No need to bring out the Roundup for this job ...
But they are everywhere you look – and like the mythical hydra, three more seem to pop up every time you yank out one.
A photo accompanies this column showing maybe a pilewort (there are like a million weeds called pilewort) or maybe something else, depending on which horticulture website you might visit.
One gardening site put the weed in the group erechtites hieracifolia – also called American burnweed and including a multitude of species.
Another online plants site said my weed “has a look somewhat similar to wild lettuce, though it is a little less colorful. But that does not stop wasps, bees, flies and butterflies from sipping its nectar. It will pop up anywhere – between the cracks of pavement, along chain-link fences. It’s as though it bided its time throughout natural history until America industrialized, just so it might offer its services to urban pollinators.”
A call to a popular local lawn and garden business sent folks scrambling to identify my nemesis.
“You’re right, this weed is everywhere,” they agreed. “It is all over the nursery.”
And: “We are even pulling it out of our potted plants. It’s very invasive.”
Yes it is. Invasive. Relentless. Arrogant.
But destined to be removed.
• • •
I recently had the pleasure of attending a butterfly release event where the host read the names of family and loved ones who had passed on and a monarch butterfly was turned loose with each remembrance.
Monarchs are known for both their beautiful orange wings and their journeys across Canada and the United States to Mexico each winter.
The gathering included a discussion of the monarch’s relationship to a plant – the milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).
We were told that the milkweed is the primary food source of monarchs, and also provides protection for the caterpillars that might one day turn into butterflies.
However, both milkweeds and the monarch are vanishing.
The speaker said the monarch population has declined by 90% in the past 25 years, partly because milkweeds are also disappearing. Insecticides, climate change and human expansion may be contributing to the loss of the monarch butterflies.
While I’m yanking out all those unnamed weeds I see everywhere, maybe I’ll plant a few milkweeds in their place.