Summer Weeds–Big Hulking Weeds

I’ve talked about my own waist high weeds–which now has led to a back issue that has kept me sidelined for a bit, so no more weeding for me.  I knew I shouldn’t try to clear that garden in one day, but they did come out so easily….

But those weeds are nothing compared to some roadside and grassy verge weeds.  If you spot any of these coming up in your yard, get out the weeder, quick!

This is prickly lettuce (latuca serriola, for those who prefer the botanical ).  This actually is coming up in someone’s yard–the new homeowners that I talked about in June.  It’s on the street side of some of their big trees.  I guess they never go around that side to see what’s there.  Not a good idea.

My camera didn’t even get the top of this weed–and it’s yet to grow taller.  It was above my head when I photographed it and I’m 5’4.”  Amazing weed.  Normally it’s an annual but our mild winter last winter permitted it to over-winter and that’s why we have these gargantuan specimens this year.  It also shouldn’t be towering over my head–but as I always say, plants can’t read!Here’s a close-up of the leaf to show some of the “prickles’ that give the plant its name.

This too is just a baby of what it’s to become.  The berries have formed, but they haven’t turned that bright purple color.  This weed, pokeweed, or poke, as it’s known to some, (phytolacca americana) can grow up to 5-6′ as well. It’s a wildlife magnet but the berries are poisonous to humans (as well as to pigs and cattle) so do not mistake them for blueberries or other small-fruited berries.

Worse yet, it’s a perennial weed with a tap root.  The only blessing, if there is one, is that when this weed is young, I’ve heard it said that its shoots are edible.  Since so much of this plant is poisonous, I would investigate that carefully before doing so.

When my sister used to live in New York, she asked me if I knew what the weed was that looked like a giant prehistoric fern.  She called it the New York Port Authority Fern.  It actually was sumac and it’s a native plant–so it’s really only a weed if it’s in the wrong place.

If it’s coming up in your yard, however, you probably consider it a weed, since it’s huge, it suckers, and if it’s staghorn sumac it makes lots of red fruits that the birds love, thereby propagating itself even more.

This actually is  smooth sumac, rhus glabra.  You can tell that because it’s lacking “hairs” on the stems and petioles.

Here is staghorn sumac, (rhus typhina) showing the fruit clusters.

This weed, although quite a pest, is one of my favorites in the monstrous weed category.  I think that’s because I once saw a very creative artist make birdbaths from molds cast from these leaves. They were stunning.  This is burdock, a biennial (artium minus).  The first year, there is just a smallish mound of leaves (smallish being a relative term–the mound may still be 1-2′ across!).  This is the  second year’s growth and as you can see it’s impressive.  The flower, when it opens, is pink and thistle-like.

Worse yet, it has a tap root which can extend over 2 feet into the soil–great for aerating tough soils–not so great if you need to root it out!

Around it you can see some of the vines we talked about Monday–bittersweet and Virginia Creeper.

Finally, when it comes to “pest,” this next weed has to take the cake for sheer persistence!  This is one of the big bad 3 that the homeowner whose rosebush was killed by the misapplication of weed killers I showed last week was trying to eradicate.  This weed has been coming up in that bed for about 10 years!

This weed is commonly known as wormwood.  Its botanical is artemesia vulgaris but please don’t confuse it with some of the well-behaved artemesias.    When it first appears, it looks almost like small mum sprouts coming back in the landscape which is why I think it is able to get such a good foothold before so many homeowners realize what is happening.

While it does “flower,” it flowers almost like ragweed–in other words, you never notice the flowers.  The really bad thing about this weed is that it has become resistant to herbicides (lesson to all you over-sprayers out there–this is what happens with abuse of our weed killers!) and it tolerates being mown down–it just comes back!  This is a weed like a bad Stephen King novel scenario!

(Isn’t it a good thing Stephen King isn’t a gardener–so far as we know?  Between stuff like this and aphids, gardeners would have nightmares for months after reading one of his gardening horror books!)

4 thoughts on “Summer Weeds–Big Hulking Weeds

  1. Laurrie July 27, 2012 / 8:55 am

    As always, thanks for the good info. I just finished Richard Mabey’s book “In Defense of Weeds” and it was excellent. He mentions so many, and it is helpful to see a few that are in our area, and see what they look like. I have burdock and pokeweed and that prickly lettuce all around outside the perimeter of my yard! Also staghorn sumac in great groves, but I like it for its primitive look and great color. Just not in my yard.

  2. gardendaze July 27, 2012 / 9:02 am

    Hi Laurrie,
    Good to know about Mabey’s book. That’s on my “to read” list but just like in the garden, too many books, too little time, of course.

    I love staghorn sumac. They’ve actually made some nice, supposedly well-behaved cultivars of it. And of course you can’t beat the fall color! But if don’t really have enough sun to support even the cultivars. I never thought I’d say such a thing after that October storm took down so much of our tree canopy but my husband and I were just remarking to each other that we can hardly see out the windows again. Lovely for cooling the house–not so lovely for sun-loving plants.

    Thanks for reading!


  3. Paula (Karla's Sister) July 28, 2012 / 6:24 pm

    It was the New York *Highway* Authority Fern, not the NY *Port* Authority Fern. I called it that because it grows so abundantly along the Merritt Parkway (and many other roadways, of course.) I wonder what the official “weed” of the Port Authority would be?

    • gardendaze July 28, 2012 / 7:19 pm

      Oopsie, sorry. I think folks got the gist, however.

      Thanks for reading–especially with all the Armageddon in your life right now.


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