Sunday, July 8, 2012


I was recently talking to a young couple who were under the impression that there were no weeds at Blue Jay Barrens.  The fact that I use the terms non-native or invasive species to identify weedy species, led these people to believe that I was not dealing with weeds.  Everyone seems to have their favorite definition of a weed, so the use of that term can cause confusion and arguments.  People love to point out that a weed is just a plant out of place, but each individual is free to use his own criteria for determining the proper place for each plant.  I also don’t very often talk about the mundane dandelions, plantains and other yard and garden pest species that survive here.  So, I thought I ought to make it clear that it’s not unlikely that plants commonly considered being weeds are to be found growing around my yard, barn and garden.  A few, like this Scarlet Pimpernel, Anagallis arvensis, are even quite attractive.

A few Scarlet Pimpernel plants manage to establish themselves in the vegetable garden every year. The bright orange blooms are quite noticeable.  Like many weeds, they depend upon soil disturbance and lack of competition for their survival.  This is not a plant that’s going to spread out into the Blue Jay Barrens prairies.

Another lovely garden weed is the Flower-of-an-Hour, Hibiscus trionum.  Like the Pimpernel, Flower-of-an-Hour depends on soil disturbance to provide it with a suitable place to germinate and grow.  The common name comes from the fact that the blooms last for less than a day. 

Soon after flowering, the calyx enlarges to contain the developing seeds.

The plant is still developing new flower buds when the first batch of seeds has ripened.  It doesn’t take long for a single plant scatter hundreds of seeds around your garden.

The plant itself is attractive and if it competes with your garden crops, it’s easy to remove by pulling.  If you somehow don’t already have this weed springing up in your garden each year, there are dozens of sources willing to sell you a few seeds.

This is Prostrate Spurge, Euphorbia maculata, a plant commonly relegated to the community of weeds.  The flowers are almost unnoticeable, but the rest of the plant is rather attractive.  Its life cycle also depends on the presence of disturbed soil, so it regularly pops up in flower beds and gardens.  The difference between this plant and the preceding two is the fact that it is a native.

Since it is a native plant, I usually give the Prostrate Spurge  a few square feet of garden space where it is allowed to grow undisturbed.  It’s not a rare plant, but it only grows in the garden and its elimination from there would mean it no longer existed on the property.  Since I do have a goal of increasing plant diversity, the Prostrate Spurge needs to stay.  That means that I don’t consider it a weed and that’s the point at which confusion and argument are likely to develop.  Now that I’ve admitted to having plants growing at Blue jay Barrens that are generally considered to be weeds, I’ll go back to using the more narrowly defined terms that I’ve always employed to designate what I consider to be undesirable plant species.

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