Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Re-thinking Weeds

This past weekend was spent ping-ponging throughout the state, with lots of interesting, but not so botanical findings. However, I did find one "life-plant" which took me through the thrill of a new find, to the "aw-shucks" of "it is just another invasive weed."

As a Weedpicker, I just can't help myself. I am simply drawn to any vegetation that looks new or different to me. On a recent walk with my friends, Hugh and Judy...

Hairy Willow-herb, Epilobium hirsutum caught my eye. This lovely quarter-sized flower was blooming prolifically along a rocky man-made canal. My heart raced... what could it be? There was only one plant growing in this location. Could it be rare?

The long seed pods should have been a hint to its genus; it is a member of the herb-willows (or willow-herbs). Turns out, this is a newly emerging invasive plant on the prowl. Oh my, and it was so pretty- but such a disappointment.

The common names all get jumbled- but in Ohio we call this a Hairy Willow-herb. Seems simple enough and a good translation from the Latin name. However, one of my favorite reference tools, the USDA Plant Data Base calls it "codlins and cream." That may be my official vote for the craziest (and most worthless) common name ever!

Purple-leaved Willow-herb, Epilobium coloratum is a near-relative of the Hairy Willow-herb. It is very, very common in Ohio. Unfortunately you'll have to turn you head side-ways to see those similar seed pods, because the Blogger-gods refuse to post this photo in its correct orientation. The flower is four-petaled, like the more showy "Hairy" plant above, however they are minuscule and difficult to see on this Willow-herb. ( Pay no attention to the Queen-Anne's-Lace in the background. That just another invasive weed.)

Common Eveing-primrose, Oenothera biennis

Like the two willow-herbs above, Common Evening-primrose is another member of the family Onagraceae. This was the plant we originally went out to identify for my friends when I got so distracted by its showy pink (alien) cousin.

There are many forms of Evening-primrose in Ohio, both native and cultivated. However, this is the most common and weediest form. It was a staple in my flower gardens for many years, but I have been phasing it out, as it is an attractive to a major garden pest: Japanese beetles. Instead of powdering and poison insects, I find it easier and more environmental friendly to cease growing plants that attract non-native invasive insects.

It is all a matter of balance. Whether it is insects or plants, a few non-natives might be a beautiful addition, but they might be the beginning of an unwanted over-population. So chose your plants wisely.


  1. Weedpicker- as I was out stretching in the parking lot I couldn't help but notice the resilience of some of the plants popping up from the crack in the blacktop. Are there any cool ones I should look for in the cracks? For some reason this "habitat" kind of reminded me about what you've written about aleovars (sp.? the rocks at edges of lakes).
    As well, I keep seeing succulents featured in all kinds of gardening books & mags... any suggestions to actually win me over on the ugly little plants (I know I just blasphemed!)? Are there any that are particularly useful?

  2. Dreamkiller-

    There are interesting plants that can eek out a living in sidewalk cracks. Some of them are even rare. One of the common ones in my garden is Purslane, an edible (alien) plant.

    Alvars are a more specialized environment- like the wave washed rock on Lakeside's east end. Very few specialized plants can endure there, by growing in miniature. -Mutti