Mystery plant amid the geraniums

I’ve been a compulsive caretaker, one who rescued or adopted kittens, taken in stray dogs, fed the neighborhood kids at lunchtime along with mine. Kids are grown and gone, but I still rescue animals…. and now I think I’ve rescued a weed.

Three weeks ago a small sprout became visible in the soil of my summer geraniums (Pelargonium) that are wintering indoors. I was curious so I let it grow. It lost its plump cotyledons and began to shoot upright through the geraniums looking for sunlight. What a funny looking little plant, I thought. Is it a weed or a maybe a sprout from last summer’s autumn clematis?

I thought the tiny fuzzy head might be a bloom but no, it just produces more leaves as it grows.

mystery plant

It’s healthy so I figure it’s a weed since weeds are the healthiest plants in my garden. Sigh…

The stem is woody and and hairy. The pubescent leaves have been opposite but the last three were whorled. I wonder what the next ones will be.

mystery plant

The tip is as tiny as a pencil eraser and full of miniature leaves. No bloom in sight.  I’m at a loss to identify what I’ve adopted but I think it’s cute.  As long as I don’t develop a rash from it or it doesn’t turn into Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, I’ll nurture “Harry” till there is an possible ID.  If there’s a guess out there, let me know….

fuzzy plant

April update:  the tiny stowaway in the geranium bed finally bloomed. I’m certain my friend who suggested it may be a sprout from last year’s birdseed is correct. Beautiful tiny yellow bloom. 


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Nightmare On My Street

At first they looked insignificant and harmless but these plants were really the devil in disguise. Like those really bad reptilian creatures with sharp teeth and claws who rampaged a town in the 1984 horror movie, Gremlins, I am currently under attack by a weed…. a devil weed, a dangerous villain, a Gremlin. It’s Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a biennial plant in the Mustard family. Native to Europe, it is thought to have been brought to America in the 1860s as a culinary herb and indeed, it is edible.

Garlic_Mustard_close_800

The small rosettes of leaves appeared among my roses and lavender several years ago. I pulled up tons without recognizing the weed until successive years when the plant had matured into tall shoots, competing with the lavender, then moving on to other borders . Each year, I weed and weed and I think I’ve gotten it under control but when I turn my back, it multiplies as fast as those little Gremlins that terrorized an entire community.

It is a destructive invasive plant that is controlled best by hand-pulling before the plant goes to seed. Each mature plant can produce over a thousand seeds and once it produces seeds, it can become so prolific that it is difficult to eradicate. When it’s introduced into a new environment, it can aggressively spread into woodlands where it out-competes native plants and flowers that insects depend upon for life. The West Virginia White Butterfly (Pieris virginiensis) and the Mustard White Butterfly (Pieris oleracea) that lay eggs on Toothwort plants are choosing to lay eggs on Garlic Mustard which has proved toxic to both the eggs and larvae. The plant also produces toxins that suppress the mycorrhizal fungi that plants require for growth.

The plant has no natural enemies. For very heavy infestations where risks to desirable plants is at a minimum, applications of systemic herbicide glyphosate can be effective.  Since the seeds remain viable for five years in the soil, diligent monitoring is important. After weeding, do not compost this weed as the plant can germinate in the compost bed.

Wish me luck.

PS: I uploaded the wrong photo. I moved and now I live in New Hampshire. Wikipedia supplied the photo of Garlic Mustard for this post.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Late Summer Weeds I Love to Hate

I am not one of those people who can sustain the care of a garden on a regular basis. Better gardeners venture out regularly to assess garden conditions. Instead I seem to weed in less effective spurts. And my maintenance techniques are not for the faint of heart. I wait until I am triggered by the arrival of guests or I know I have two to three days in a row at home or the lure of a cooler day coaxes me outdoors away from other duties.  On those days I weed like a perspiring, grimy maniac from dawn to dusk (or later) filling several wheelbarrows with debris… lots of dead stuff, spent herbage, and tons of weeds.  At the end of each day, mister gardener and even the dogs give me a wide berth.

Having just completed a major late summer overhaul of the garden, there were the familiar seasonal weeds that seemed to taunt me. As my garden flowers fade, these weeds thrive in the sun baked ground, they sprout atop the fresh mulch, and they prosper without the existence of water. One weed that gardeners encounter this time of year is spotted spurge.

Spotted spurge

Spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) is a late-summer annual that forms a low, dense mat over the ground. This spurge seems to find every crack and crevice in full sun and it can grow over a foot in diameter. The lookalike spurge, prostrate spurge, roots at the nodes of the plant. Thank goodness that one isn’t a problem in these gardens!

Partridge Pea takeover!

Some gardeners welcome the Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), a native annual, to their late summer garden but I’m not one of them. Left alone, this plant reaches two feet in height and drops seed from pods in the fall. It does have a lovely yellow bloom that insects seem to adore…. even the red velvet ant, I read somewhere. I respect this plant but I can hardly give it an inch because it is so prolific. It prefers full sun but thrives in the shady area of my new secret garden where, alas, the soil is poor.

Common Woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta)

One last plague in the garden path is common yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta), a clover-like plant that hides in my steppable groundcover along the flagstone in full sun or shade. For effective weeding I slowly work my way along the flagstone, pulling the plant gently out of the sandy foundation where succulents, thymes and miniature grasses fill in the gaps between stones. Annoying as it is, I remember as a child chewing on the sour leaves so this weed, I don’t mind so much.

Following my Herculean garden undertaking on Saturday, I have retired from weeding duties until the next time.  The garden looks fine from the windows while I’m vacuuming. It looks inspirational from the deck as I fill the hummingbird feeders. The tall hosta blooms swaying in the breezes are thrilling from the porch as sip my lemonade. Sigh.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester