And I daresay most of us would nod our heads in agreement but have to add "Some plants really are just weeds!" I know that I will never have anything nice to say about the weedy grasses and Creeping Charlie that I am constantly pulling out of my garden. Every gardener has her own weedy nemesis. But there are some plants that really could be called a weed in one garden and a wildflower in another, depending on the situation and the personal preference of the gardener. Let's look at a few that have appeared in my garden this summer.
About a month ago, my friend and I were walking around the arbor bed when we noticed these small yellow blooms on a very tall plant. Now you have to understand that the back of the arbor bed is where I often plant something until I can find a better place for it. It's also the place where I scatter a lot of seeds in the spring, so when I see a mystery plant, I usually leave it alone until I can identify it.
Something about these blooms reminded me of evening primrose, though I was thinking of the small plants that grow under a foot tall. Mine was huge! But when I did a little research, sure enough, it was a primrose--Oenothera biennis, Common Evening Primrose, which can grow to 7 feet tall.
Yellow flowers, which are actually quite attractive though small, appear on the top of the plant and are open from evening till morning, though they may remain open on cloudy days. The blooms have a mild lemony scent and are attractive to moths, especially sphinx moths; hummingbirds; and various types of bees and beetles. The seeds are eaten by goldfinches.
Despite the attraction to different insects and wildlife and the cute little flowers, Oenothera biennis still looks like a weed to me. As I read on, I found that it has a "fleshy taproot" and its "seeds can remain viable in the soil after 70 years." That clinched its fate--I promptly removed it from my garden!
Another mystery plant appeared in the Lily Bed early in the summer. Usually any volunteer in this area that I don't recognize turns out to be a weed. But the small pink blooms that eventually opened looked promising so that I hoped this might be some unusual wildflower that the birds had kindly planted for me, as they did a few years ago with some Rudbeckia.
I had no luck in finding it in my wildflower book or searching blindly through websites. But one day while visiting my parents, I spied the same plant growing near their house. I was so excited to find it and asked my dad if he knew what it was. Sure enough, Dad, a farmer for all of his 89 years, immediately dismissed it with, "That's a Wild Four O'clock; it's a weed and will take over if you let it!"
|Like other Four O'Clocks, the blooms open in late afternoon and stay open in the evening, closing in the morning. The blooms didn't seem to last long on my wild plant.|
When I checked this one out, it was listed on my go-to-source, illinoiswildflowers.info, but it was also listed on many other sites as an invasive weed. According to Illinois Wildflowers, Mirabilis nyctaginea is visited by long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, moths, and possibly hummingbirds. But again those warning phrases: "A long taproot" and "reseeds." This time I decided Father knows best and ripped it out.
This weedy wildflower pops up in different places every year, but it's one I easily recognize now. Ever since I found a huge specimen of Phytolacca Americana, better known as Pokeweed, behind our barn several years ago, I have had a few volunteers in the garden every year. I usually cut them down or try to dig them out (again that taproot, so it's not easy), but I left this one just for this post. They're really rather attractive plants--if you have the right place for them--especially late in the season when the stems turn reddish-purple and dark purple berries appear. I've written about Pokeweed before, so if you would like to see the mature berries, you can check them out here. Despite the fact the berries are popular with songbirds, these are not going to have the chance to mature--I have enough thugs in my garden without encouraging any more.
Speaking of thugs, here is a plant I purposely planted--Physostegia virginiana. Anyone who has ever planted Obedient Plant knows that it is anything but. Although I would never call this native a "weed," I have a love-hate relationship with it.
And finally, a new wildflower/native this year that I am truly excited about! I noticed these yellow blooms from a distance last week and thought at first they were more yellow coneflowers. But closer inspection revealed something different altogether. The blooms looked so familiar to me, but I wasn't sure until I looked through my wildflower book. These are Sneezeweed, possibly Helenium autumnale.
|It looks like some critters are already enjoying these tasty blooms.|