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The Uninvited and Everpresent

For years I complained about witch grass – until I bought Weeds of the Northeast by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal and Joseph DiTomaso – and found out I should have been complaining about quackgrass. Witch grass (Panicum capillare L.) is a summer annual that reproduces by seed that germinates in late spring and midsummer. It is found everywhere, in gardens, farm fields, in poor dry soil and wet fertile soil.

Quackgrass (Elytrigia repens) also known as couch grass, is a rhizomatous perennial. It spreads by seed as well as by those awful fleshy white rhizomes. If I leave even the tiniest bit of rhizome in the soil when I am weeding, it will continue to grow and send up new shoots. It grows throughout the northern U.S. and Canada and as far west to southern Arizona. I love to find an isolated bit of quackgrass with stems coming up in a straight line from each underground node because I feel I have a better chance than usual of getting up the whole rhizome.

Unfortunately this is not the only weed grass that comes up in my vegetable and flower beds. I can safely say I also have wirestem muhly (Muhlenbergia fondosa), also known as knot root grass, another rhizomatous perennial that also reproduces by seed as well as by the distinctive knotty roots and rhizome.

I am pretty sure I have barnyard grass (Echinochloa crus-galli) a clump forming summer annual; orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) a clump forming perennial; downy brome (Bromus tectorum L.) a summer or winter annual; wild oats (Avena fatua L.) an annual grass; and yellow foxtail (Setaria glauca) a clump forming summer annual that produces the familiar fox tail or bottle brush seed head. Downy brome, wild oats and yellow foxtail have very pretty seedheads in the summer, just the kind of thing you would want for a dried arrangement, but they will each spread hundred of seeds to come up next year.

Broadleaf DockBroadleaf dock (Rumex obtusifolias L.) is perennial and a bane of my existence. It grows thickly and fleshily with a deep taproot that is hard to cut out and almost impossible to dig out. It also produces seed that will germinate from spring through early fall.  The ripe reddish brown flowering shoot might also add interest to a fall dried arrangement – but is never interesting in the garden.

One of my favorite weeds is bedstraw (Galium), a summer or winter annual. There are two galiums, and I am not absolutely sure if I have G. aparine or G. mollugo; I will have to look more closely at the stems. This is a weed with fine whorled foliage and tiny white flowers. They are fairly easy to pull, but they are so pretty that I often leave them alone – depending on where they are. I don’t mind too much when they grow up through the middle of a rose bush because it is almost like having a rose and baby’s breath bouquet.

I think I have the annual carpetweed (Mollugo verticillata L.) too, which is very similar to Galium but it is prostrate, creeping across the ground, thus the name carpetweed. Carpetweed is very similar to the perennial common chickweed, and mouseear chickweed (Cerasteum). I know I have this weed because it forms dense mats; the stems root at each node. It produces tiny white flowers from spring into October.

Galium or Bedstraw

Weeds of the Northeast gives very specific ways of discriminating one plant from another when they are similar by describing the shape of the stem, round or square, the arrangement of leaves, color and hairiness. On many plants you have to look closely, but you will see that some have little hairs on the stems or foliage.

I find sorrel (Rumex acetosella L.) throughout the gardens. I used to think it was culinary sorrel, and while it does have a sour flavor and is edible there are other sorrel varieties that are more often used in cooking. If I want French sorrel soup I will have to look for R. scutatus.

Sour Grass or Red Sorrel

I’m happy to name one weed, hairy galinsoga (Galinsoga ciliata) because people often ask about it and I like saying the word ‘galinsoga.’ Sometimes this 8 to 20 inch plant is called shaggy soldier, I guess because it is kind of floppy. It has tiny white flowers around a yellow center. It is an annual and easy to pull out, but because the seeds have no dormancy they can germinate soon after being shed which means there will be several generations in one season. The leaves are egg-shaped and toothed. Both leaves and stems are hairy. My book says it is difficult to control and is usually found on fertile soil. Nice to know I have fertile soil.

I call my lawn a flowery mead because it is full of wildflowers, what some would call weeds. First and most noticeably there are dandelions, the common weed for which I named my blog. In the spring there are also field pansies that look like tiny Johnny jump ups, and blue violets. I cannot get too upset about these weeds.

Later in the summer the hawkweeds (Hieracium) bloom. These are perennials and reproduce by seed, rhizome and stolons. I have H. pratense that has yellow flowers and H. aurntiacum which has red-orange flowers. I call them devil’s paintbrush, some use the term Indian paintbrush.

I haven’t given a full catalog of all my weeds, but now you know why one visitor whispered to her friend, “She doesn’t weed!”  I do weed, but not well enough.

Between the Rows  April 10, 2010

4 comments to The Uninvited and Everpresent

  • Lisa at Greenbow

    I think quack grass is worse than crab grass. UGH. I bet I have every weed you mentioned in my garden. Sigh~~

  • I shudder to think of all the names lurking in my own non-garden. This is very impressive, Pat.

  • Pat

    Lisa – And I didn’t even name them all.
    Tinky – Naming something is supposed to give you power over that thing, but I don’t feel it.

  • Jen

    Yep, you’ve just about named everything that’s making an appearance here now, too! The broadleaf plantain is the worst one, but that will come later. I’ll have to find that book!

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