Weeds crop up in many places, especially where the soil has been disturbed. Any gardener can attest to that. Among the weeds that appear along roads and in fields are several members of the mustard family, such as Field Pennycress and Field Peppergrass.
Field Pennycress, Thlaspi arvense, an alien to America, can be found in dry, cleared woods, in waste areas, at the roadside and in fields. Places where the soil has been disturbed are likely habitats for this foot and a half tall weed.
These plants get started early enough that they can complete their life cycle before the end of Spring. Basal rosettes will overwinter from the previous autumn, which makes this plant a biennial. Seeds are developed as early as May, but individual plants can be found growing and producing seeds throughout the growing season.
Seed pods are flat, circular “pennies” with a definite notch at the top. This notch differentiates field pennycress from other similar seed-producing mustards.
As the seed pods dry out the seeds can be seen through the thinning pods, especially when held up to the light.
This one small plant produced a half-teaspoon of seeds. As far as seed production goes, I’m not sure if that’s a lot from just one plant. Collecting the seeds from two plants would make a teaspoon of seeds, six plants for a tablespoon, and 18 plants for a quarter of a cup.
The seeds taste like a sharp mustard or peppery flavor. If you could collect a quantity of them, they could be crushed to use in a spicy homemade mustard. Or the seeds could be used in a spice grinder as a poor gal’s pepper. Or even try cooking with it whole, say in potato salad, substituting field pennycress seeds for mustard seed, or dropping some seeds into a vegetable stir-fry to add a little spicy flavor.
Weeds at the side of the road are bountiful. So many kinds of plants grow in disturbed areas, like what you find at the edge of the road where it meets the fields. If you find a country road and travel it real slowly, you’ll see flowers that you never knew were there.
One day in May as I drove along a country road I saw these really tall dandelion-type flowers, so you know I just had to stop. What were these “giant dandelions” that reached over three feet tall?
The height of the flower, more than a foot and a half, told me the plants weren’t dandelions. Also, the stem wasn’t hollow, like the hollow tube of a dandelion flower stem, but it felt solid.
Against my walking stick the height of the flower heads measures about 3 feet tall. The yellow flowers are large, measuring 1-2.5 inches in diameter. The composite flowers on long stalks with alternate, grass like leaves that clasp the stem make this plant Yellow Goatsbeard, Tragopogon pratensis, an alien to the U.S.A.
The leaves of goatsbeard clasp the stem at their base. They’re long and grass-like and tend to curl when developing near the top of the stem.
An interesting character is that the blossoms close up by mid-day. You can easily see this in many lawns in our area where goatsbeard attains only a few inches in height before blooming and eventually being mowed over. In fact that is where I first learned about goatsbeard. In the grass yellow goatsbeard forms colonies of a few to many plants which open happily in the sunshine and that close up in the afternoon or on a cloudy day.
Knowing that it’s often seen as a lawn weed, I was surprised to see that the three-feet tall plants were also Yellow Goatsbeard.
I’ll search through my archived pictures to see if I have a photo of the lawn variety. Can anyone share a photo of a colony of yellow goatsbeard in the lawn?
Weeds are everywhere, so they are often overlooked. Most of us would think of dandelions or anything else growing in the grass as a weed, or point to any of the plants along the roadside as weeds. Our definition of a weed here at Wildeherb is:
A weed: any plant that is growing in the “wrong” place.
As our high school horticulture teacher taught us, a rose bush could be considered a weed if it was growing in the wrong place.
When a plant is identified as a weed, someone will pull it out, mow it down, or heaven forbid, spray it with chemicals to kill it. If everyone would spend less energy on all of the above, imagine the time and expense we all could save.
Weeds are kind of like cockroaches. They’ve been on this Green Earth long before humankind ever made the first fire to keep warm, and they’ll be here long after 2012. At least consider other options before polluting the Earth with nasty chemicals because your lawn or flower bed isn’t quite uniform. Being uniform isn’t very natural, and in my humble opinion, it looks pretty fake.
Major Pet Peave: Watching road crews spray chemicals at the base of road signs or seeing the dead brown mass of plants afterward! Isn’t there a better solution? Right away, I’d vote for fewer signs. How about putting down some stone or mulch that wouldn’t interfere with mowing? Why not plant a ground cover that won’t grow as tall as the other weeds that need to be mowed? With millions of miles of roads in the U.S.A. this is a problem of immense proportions looking for a green solution. We need to find better, healthier alternatives to the way we do things! <Rant over…back to my own weed “problems”.>
Just a couple weeks ago I chopped down two trees that I had planted about six years ago. They were pretty Sargent Crabapple trees, but they were in the wrong place. Hence, these weeds were removed.
We’re surrounded by the forest, so we really didn’t need more trees filling in the most sunny places we have. The little foot tall saplings were planted there until I found the right place to move them. The trees were beautiful this Spring when blooming, but that wasn’t enough of a reason to keep them. They were taking up more sunny real estate than five blueberry bushes!
I thought about digging them up for a friend who admired the sprawling crabapples, but that seemed like waaaay too much work. Besides, she could get her own set of ten trees just by signing up for the Arbor Day Foundation. At $1 per tree it’s a deal that can’t be beat.
The Sargent Crabapple, Malus sargentii, grows wider than it does tall. These “little” trees had most branches less than an inch in diameter, so I used a pair of loppers to tackle the job. Each tree had a spread of 10-12 feet. They took up too much space in the sunny spot, so they had to go. If the root ball had spread out like the limbs did, we could have had a fish pond if I bothered to dig them up instead of cutting them down. Too late!
Today, there are cabbages growing adjacent to where the crabapples stood. Moss roses or portulaca adorn the area, too.
The dog was helping me in this project, so he had to sniff and dig around the area. He was relentless and obviously after something. No matter what I said or did that dog wouldn’t quit, so I knew somebody was hiding in there. He dug out and killed a Shorttail Shrew, Blarina brevicauda, see photo above.
After the tress were cut and I raked the area of sticks and leaf debris, I could smell urine, like that of a mouse nest. If there were other shrews in that place they will probably go elsewhere without the shade of the trees. If not, the cabbage will be ok because these little mammals eat insects and invertebrates, not plants.
A certain visitor might miss the trees though. One day a couple weeks ago I saw what I first thought to be a large stick lodged in the middle of a tree. It had been windy, but I didn’t think it was that windy to have thrown a stick that far from the big oaks at the edge of the woods. When I recognized that the stick was now pointing up instead of down, I realized it was not a stick.
Leaves develop after the crabapple flowers. Its blooming period is about two weeks long. The leaves are small and cute. They occur in triplets with lobed edges and make a beautiful display in the fall.
In a way it’s kind of sad to see the trees gone now, but I am looking forward to our fall cabbage crop. If you are looking for a small tree or a big shrub to fill in an area, you might want to give the Sargent Crabapple a try. It’s a pretty tree of a manageable size that gives rise to dainty flowers in the spring and colorful fall foliage. Join the Arbor Day Foundation for the cheapest way to get TEN flowering trees for only $10.
A weed that I’ve enjoyed seeing, until they had a population explosion in the vegetable garden recently, is the yellow oxalis or sour grass.
Yellow oxalis is also known as Yellow Wood Sorrel, which is the common name used for two closely related plants, Oxalis stricta and O. europaea. Both plants are native to the eastern United States. The outward difference between the two species is in the way the seed pods are held. The seed pods of O. stricta have a sharp angle in their stems, while those of O. europaea are not bent. Photos in this post are of O. stricta.
The leaves are like shamrocks, so sometimes we call it that. Each leaf is made up of three heart-shaped leaflets, joined at their bases.
By June the earliest flowering oxalis will set seed. Seeds develop in their candle-like spikes, which are the pieces to eat for a sour treat, although the foliage tastes sour too.
While pulling out weeds we often uncover toads. The little ones we find in the springtime are actually cute!
Flowering plants number in the thousands or hundreds of thousands actually. Indeed, the huge variety of types of flowers is one thing that draws me to them…the seemingly infinite arrangement of colors, shapes and sizes.
Sometimes I find a flower that is more of a curiosity than anything else. Take for instance these tiny little flowers that come out in early spring. You can find them appearing in flower beds and walkways, along roads and in lawns.
To find out what these little plants are, you’d need a weed book, I guess. The flowers are so tiny as to disappear from view in a short distance. With blossoms that are 1-2 mm across, these posies won’t appear in a wildflower book for their flashyness. Not exactly eye-catching, unless you’re on the ground with them.
Those that we see in the lawn near the garden have a tiny blue flower with four petals. In the center of the blossom is a white ring that surrounds a couple of light-colored stamens. The flower looks like it belongs to the Speedwell group.
The plant has a sprawling habit as it sends out hairy, maroon runners in all directions. The broad, spade-shaped leaves along the runners are scalloped on the edges and lie opposite one another. Where the runners terminate, the leaves become less broad and they’re more tightly packed together. Flowers appear singly in the leaf axils. Photos taken 3 May 2011.
Right next to the tiny blue flowers were a bunch of tiny white flowers. These little curiosities appear in the lawn each spring.
The tiny white flowers seem to be a form of speedwell also, with opposite leaves that are jagged or notched. The leaves are similar to those of the tiny blue flower, except drawn out or stretched into thinner, oval shapes. The white flowers have fours petals and occur at the leaf nodes, not terminally. Overall, the tiny white flower plant is taller and has more vertically rising stems than the tiny blue flower plant.
So, it’s just a curiosity I have about these little plants. I suppose that ants or flies would pollinate the tiny flowers. Plenty of them get pulled out of flower beds or mowed down by the lawnmower, but sometimes they come back.
It turns out that the tiny blue flowered plant is called Corn Speedwell, Veronica arvensis. I came across its picture when looking up Blue-Eyed Grass in the Audubon Field Guide to Wildflowers. Corn speedwell is not native to America, nor does it appear to have edible or medicinal qualities.