Two Winter Weeds

by Carl Strang

Today’s focus is on two weeds that, viewed as objects, have to be regarded as beautiful if we can separate that out from their negative associations. The first is common burdock.

The entire plant isn’t all that great to look at, being sprawling and ungainly.

The entire plant isn’t all that great to look at, being sprawling and ungainly.

Apart from its edibility if properly prepared, there isn’t much positive to say about this Eurasian import. But look at the burs up close.

There’s something restful and visually (though not physically) huggable about burdock burs.

There’s something restful and visually (though not physically) huggable about burdock burs.

The second species, this one from India, is velvetleaf.

Again, the fruiting capsules in winter are attractive.

Again, the fruiting capsules in winter are attractive.

Velvetleaf is not as undesirable as burdock. It pops up quickly when bare soil appears, and perhaps has the positive effect of holding such soil together. In any case, it’s a competitive wimp that quickly is pushed out of the way by the next wave of plant colonists.

Another view of the pod. The soft, heart-shaped leaves are dropped, so the rest of the plant is just a short bare stem.

Another view of the pod. The soft, heart-shaped leaves are dropped, so the rest of the plant is just a short bare stem.

Such structures are worth a few moments’ appreciation, and are among the many rewards of winter wandering in the landscape.

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Another Round of Weeds

by Carl Strang

Late summer’s fade into early autumn brings out more weeds in the botanical parade that I have shared from Mayslake Forest Preserve this year. Weeds as defined in this blog are generally plants that are annuals or biennials, grow fast in disturbed places, produce a lot of seeds, then die. I also include non-native and undesirable plants in this category. Thus far, it has been easy to show that weeds can be beautiful. This time I am a little pressed to do so, as today’s collection is showiness challenged.

Common ragweed b

This, for instance, is common ragweed. It is wind-pollinated, so rather than investing in colorful petals or other animal attractants it produces huge volumes of tiny, non-sticky pollen to drift on the breezes and fertilize large numbers of seeds. People with pollen allergies suffer as a result. We have two ragweeds, the other being giant ragweed:

Giant ragweed b

Earlier in the season we met three fleabane varieties common at Mayslake. Much less conspicuous because of its tiny flowers is the fourth species in genus Erigeron, horseweed.

Horseweed b

Here is an example of the confusion that can result from the use of common names for plants. Two vastly different forbs are known as “fireweed.” The one at Mayslake is a member of genus Erechtites in the sunflower family.

Fireweed 2b

I have attempted to accommodate botanically astute friends who question my use of common names in the blog by listing the scientific names in the tags at the head of the blog entry. People in the know will have no trouble figuring out which scientific name goes with which common name. I use the names in Swink & Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region.

Here and there at Mayslake are scattered common burdock plants.

Common burdock b

Their flowers also can be purple. Finally, I am indulging myself by including stickseed in the “weeds” category, though it more properly is a woodland species.

Stickseed b

Though this is a native plant, there are moments when I am pulling its incredibly grabby seeds from my clothing that I unambiguously regard stickseed as an undesirable.

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