Beautiful Weeds

by Carl Strang

I have fallen way behind in reporting on new wildflowers at Mayslake, which I am tracking to begin phenology  records for that preserve. Today I want to feature weeds. This is a term I use with care, as it has several distinctly different meanings. In everyday use a weed is simply an undesirable plant. To a restoration specialist they are not native to the local landscape. If they are good competitors, a special effort is needed to remove them. If not, they simply will be pushed aside by native plants as the latter get established. To an ecologist, “weedy” organisms can be plants or animals, and are defined by their life history strategy. In comparison to other organisms they have short lives, grow quickly in disturbed habitats where there is little competition (weeds are poor competitors), and produce large numbers of small seeds or young that can disperse widely. One or more of these definitions apply to the plants I am sharing today, and I am trying to use photos that reveal their beauty . So, let’s begin with dame’s rocket.

Dame's rocket b

I have found it in only one corner of the preserve, near the friary, but as you can see it is abundant in that spot. In the cracked pavement around the friary I found this field bindweed.

Field bindweed 2b

Its flowers place it in the morning glory family. One of the friary’s abandoned gardens has some horse radish growing, and that patch may be the source of a few plants growing more than 100 yards away, near the parking lot for the off-leash dog area.

Horse radish 1b

Other weedy plants can be found in lawns around the main parking lots and mansion. They include white clover,

White clover 2b

black medick,

Black medick b

and mouse-ear chickweed.

Mouse-ear chickweed 2b

Amur honeysuckle is a bane of our woodlands, but it has a beautiful floral display this time of year.

Amur honeysuckle b

I admit to confusion in the white flowering members of the genera Silene and Lychnis, but believe I have the identification correct for this white campion, or evening lychnis, L. alba.

White campion b

Common wood sorrel is regarded as native, but it certainly has a weedy life history strategy.

Common wood sorrel 1b

Finally there is the Indian strawberry, named for its origin in south Asia and the small red fruits that resemble strawberries but are inedible.

Indian strawberry b

The leaves also bear a resemblance to our native wild strawberry, but the yellow flowers are a giveaway.

A final note is to thank Scott N. again for his assistance, this time with the field cress. Once that former mystery plant started elongating its fruiting stalk it became, to my eye, less beautiful and mysterious, but much more recognizable.



  1. Scott Namestnik said,

    May 29, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Hi Carl. Is the field cress you’re talking about the plant I thought may be Lepidium campestre? Common names can be so confusing.

    If you haven’t already, you may want to check your black medick to ensure that it isn’t instead Trifolium dubium. The two look almost identical when in flower. As they mature, the corollas of Medicago lupulina are deciduous, while those of Trifolium dubium are persistent and just turn brown (I may see that character in your photo, but I can’t tell for sure). In fruit, they are unmistakable, as Medicago has a coiled fruit and the fruit of trifolium is not coiled. In flower, the calyx of Trifolium is distinctly bilabiate, while the calyx lobes of Medicago are nearly equal. Also, the terminal leaflet of Medicago lupulina is on a stalk more than 1mm long (I may see this character in your photo, but I can’t tell for sure), while that of Trifolium dubium is shorter.

    • natureinquiries said,

      June 1, 2009 at 2:50 am

      Hi, Scott,
      Thanks for keeping me honest. I follow a regional reference, Plants of the Chicago Region, by Floyd Swink and Gerould Wilhelm. There is always the possibility of confusion with common names, as you say. I use them in the blog because I expect most of its readers to be more comfortable with them. When there is confusion I have to count on readers to express it, as you have done here. As you suggested, Lepidium campestre is the plant. Swink and Wilhelm use the common name “field cress” for it. As for the yellow-headed legume, I was inclined to assume it was a clover, but the yellow-flowered clovers are less common in my area than they are farther east in your area. The black medick, on the other hand, is a very common lawn plant west of Chicago.

  2. Scott said,

    May 30, 2009 at 2:30 am

    In looking at the photo of black medick again, I think you’re right with your ID.

  3. June 11, 2009 at 11:25 am

    […] that includes the meanings of undesirable plant, plant not native to the area, and plant with a weedy life history strategy . An example of a native plant in the last category is annual […]

  4. June 22, 2009 at 6:12 am

    […] series, this one adding the latest flowering plants that are non-native, undesirable, or with a weedy life history strategy . Let’s begin with musk […]

  5. Elizabeth said,

    April 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Hi I was looking at your listings and noticed you said the Indian Strawberry was inedible, this is untrue. It is flavorless but edible and has medicinal properties. The fruit can be made into a drink for upset stomach, the leaves can be dried and cooked with. You can also make a poultice out of the fruit and leaves for boils, excema and other skin conditions. In its native land it has been used for blood thinning and lowering high fever. It is even undergoing research for medicinal use with HIV. Although most view this as a weed if you enjoy natural remedies this is a plant to keep!

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