Scab Plants

by Carl Strang

On Friday I went up to the former friary site at Mayslake Forest Preserve to check on the progress of plant growth there. Most prominent were a number of weeds, some of which already were flowering. I was pleased to see my tentative identification of barnyard grass proved out.

For such a relatively large-bodied, coarse plant, this grass proved its ability to grow rapidly and in large numbers on a site that had been bare soil a short time earlier.

The other dominant species was velvetleaf, though none of those I saw were flowering yet.

This import from India is one of the earliest weeds to appear in sterile-looking soils.

A very few crabgrass plants also were present, along with a few quick-growing nut sedges.

These proved to be an annual species I had not observed previously at Mayslake: the rusty nut sedge.

Other plants also were additions to the preserve list.

This one is called flower-of-an-hour because of the ephemeral nature of its blooms.

Another new one was the green amaranth.

Amaranths sometimes were cultivated by Native Americans in their early agricultural period.

It’s easy to disparage such weedy species, but I found myself remembering how Tom Brown calls them “scab plants.” They grow quickly, protecting the wounded soil and sequestering carbon and minerals until giving way to more competitive perennials. I’m looking forward to seeing the longer-term native plants that were seeded here.

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