Sunday, June 28, 2009

Plant or Weed?

This year we decided to cancel our lawn service. There's been no "weeding and feeding" of our turf, and the non-grass plants that were missing last year have started to return. (A few never really went away.) I know the names of some of the invading weeds...dandelions and clover are so distinctive they're easy to identify. Crabgrass is forever popping up in the garden, and because nutsedge (aka watergrass) grows faster than the grass it's sadly easy to find in the yard.

However, I can't identify many of the other weeds. There's the plant with the yellow flowers, the one with succulent-looking leaves, and the one that starts out looking like a petite dandelion, but has tiny white flowers at the top of a longish stem. I decided to rectify my ignorance and today I researched the names of the weeds that I see in our yard.

I got my information, and photos, from the University of Missouri Weed Identification Guide Website. It was very helpful. There were several different classes of weeds, but I concentrated on the garden, landscape, and lawn categories. I spent a lot of time clicking through to different plants. There were some very unusual names that caught my attention, such as clammy groundcherry, mugwort, and poorjoe. A few plants, like Jerusalem artichoke, are considered weeds when they grow in wrong places, but are actually cultivated in others.

Some of my more interesting discoveries:

This is yellow woodsorrel. The leaves look a bit like a shamrock, as woodsorrel is in the oxalis family. The plant is a perennial, and I'm forever pulling these plants from my flowerbeds starting in the spring. They tend to grow in clusters; there's always four or five plants growing together in one spot. An orange dye can be obtained by boiling the whole plant; I may need to try that!

Common Lespedeza is an annual that's also called Japanese clover. It forms a large flat mat that can be more than a foot wide. At my house, it likes to grow in the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street, and kills all the grass underneath it. Occasionally after a hard rain I can pull up the whole plant; it's attached to a long taproot.

Do you ever wonder how some plants got their name? Shepherd's-purse has triangular, purse-like pods. It can flower almost all year round. Although it can get as tall as two feet, in our yard it gets mown over on a regular basis, so it tends to stay short.

Common purslane is in the portulaca family, which explains the leaf's resemblance to the annual flower I buy from the garden shop. This plant loves to grow in the driveway and sidewalk expansion joints at my house. Someone told me that purslane is edible, but because it's growing so close to the street at our house I think I'll pass!


  1. I have some of these same ones. Mostly, like you said, close to the sidewalk.

    Annoying killers of grass.

  2. I have yellow woodsorrel as well (although I didn't know what it was called). My lawn/gardens have been quite neglected this year, so I'll have to spend some time getting things back in shape soon.