Sunday, June 17, 2012

Will the Real Weed Please Stand Up?

Gardening Quiz. Get out your #2 lead pencils. Close your textbooks. Clear your desks. Put away all of your notes. Put away cell phones, iPods, and all other cheating devices. Keep your eyes on your own work. Choose the best answer. Ready. Begin.

1. This garden chore requires heavy gloves, a digger tool, blood, sweat, and lots of patience.  (100 points)
            a. mowing
            b. cultivating
            c. weeding

2. What is the best way to eliminate weeds from the garden? (250 points)
            a. a good dose of Weed Be Gone
            b. a through drowning in Round-Up
            c. pulling           
            d. never letting a weed’s seed enter the soil

3. Which is the real weed?            (350 points) Photo ID
            a. cosmos
            b. milkweed
            c. neither
            d. both

1. c
2. a, b, and c if d fails
3. a. Cosmos or b. Milkweed

a. Cosmos: My dad called them a weed, and I understand why. Once planted, they are voracious self-seeding propagators. I like them because they come in shades of pink, and I love pink flowers. They make lovely fillers for bouquets; they fill-in the garden; butterflies and bees love them; they are easy keepers. On the down side, they can overtake a space, as they have done in my back garden. I will no doubt be thinning them. The new rose Just Joey, the centerpiece of the garden, is hidden, dwarfed by the aggressive cosmos. So out some will come.

b. Milkweed: Asclepias syriaca actually has fond childhood memories for me. While dad wasn’t a farmer, we lived an isolated rural farm life in the early ‘50s west of Denver on 50 acres with a big lake, that’s what we called it, the Big Lake. I’d ride my bike the ¼ mile up the dirt road to the Big Lake where milkweed flourished. I knew that monarch butterflies laid their eggs on the leaves, so I’d collect the caterpillars and raise them to butterflies. Today I tolerate the milkweed in the garden in hopes of attracting monarchs that are somewhat scarce here. At the old home, I managed to keep plants under control and even    had a crop of 
caterpillars one summer. But here at The Garden Spot, my stand of one milkweed has grown to many and they will have to be thinned out because they are choking out the coneflowers, the lilies, and other more desirable plants. In doing research to find the scientific name, I ran across some very interesting information on the milkweed. I consider the plant to be invasive, a nuisance, and a weed with its only value to monarchs, but I learned these facts from

School children during WWII gathered the matured seed pods so that the government could use the fluff to stuff floatation devises for the military because the commonly used fluff was a Japanese product and we were at war with Japan. The milkweed fluff is considered softer than goose down. Could it possibly be hypoallergenic too?
            The milkweed is also edible. Milkweed salad anyone? As in asparagus, broccoli or okra.
It can even be ordered online for serious butterfly gardeners, sold as a perennial, including all of the different varieties.
            Finally, it could even be farmed. Now wouldn’t that be a great crop: self-seeding, little or not cultivation, and dozens of uses. (

Who knew? So does the milkweed really fit these criteria of a desired plant? How does the cosmos rate? Illinois lists these criteria for a desirable plant:
1) It is an introduced species that is poorly adapted to the surrounding environment. 

2) It is a sterile hybrid or patented cultivar. 

3) It is difficult to maintain and often short-lived.
4) It doesn't spread readily to places where it doesn't belong. 

5) It has obvious aesthetic or culinary properties.
6) It has to be purchased at a store or through a catalog.

Was dad right about the dainty pink flower? The Illinois Wildflower web site gives this definition of a weed: “. . . . Thus, suburbia considers any plant a weed that is well-adapted to its environment, prone to reproduce itself and spread, requires little or no effort to maintain, has no obvious aesthetic or culinary properties, and doesn't require money to acquire.”

Weed or not, any plant that begins to dominate a garden must be controlled, even eliminated.  The question is then how to get rid of noxious weeds? I must admit to using 24-D and Round-up on the worst weeds-- thistle, bindweed, and dandelions. Not only to they self- propagate, but they also spread by developing hearty and aggressive root systems—some roots I could swear reach the center of the earth. The more we pull bindweed, the faster it spreads. It seems to delight in a good pull. The best advice is not to let dandelions, thistle, and other seed bearing plants to go seed. Easier said than done. Birds spread a lot of seeds as they flit from yard to yard, so the battle to keep a yard weed free is on going. I liked what Robin at Life in Robin's Nest  place wrote about her weeds: she hides them behind the flowers.  As for using chemicals in the garden, I don’t mind so much using them in the flowerbeds, but the vegetable garden is another thing. There we hoe and pull to avoid the chemicals in the food garden.

Assignment: There are several varities of Asclepias. You may be growing your own variety in your yard. Do some reading, then let us know which variety you have and answer this question: Flower or Foe. Feed or Weed?

Order milkweed on line:

High Park Fire update: Still burning, still evacuating residents. So far 188 homes lost, 75,000+ acres burned, 45% contained, rivaling the Hayman fire 10 years ago that burned 134,114 acres and 133 homes. Folks still have not yet been allowed to go back to their homes because of the danger that the fire may restart in some areas. Today: hot, windy, smoky, ashes in the air.

One last pretty picture.

Our lovely daughter Jennifer is due June 22. Another sweet baby girl. It will be a long week waiting.

Hug a farmer. Hug your dad. Go pull some weeds before they set seed.


  1. I have to admit to encouraging Cosmos, such a pretty plant. When the seeds are ripe we have flocks of Goldfinch feasting on them.

  2. Hi Ann! Jennifer is lovely! She looks gorgeous waiting for that sweet baby girl!
    I have weedy cosmos, too. I must pull some soon.
    Our Ft. Collins son says that the air is so smoky and the kids have to play inside. It's so sad. I wish it would rain for two days to slow it down a bit.

  3. I wouldn't have thought of cosmos as a weed but I guess it depends on the conditions and how much it self seeds and begins to take over. I had cosmos one year and it didn't self seed (to my disappointment). Loads of weeds have beneficial qualities, like dandelion leaves can be eaten in salad or made into tea. I'd love to do a course on medicinal plants and how to use them. That fire is horrendous, very sad news that it is still going. That's a nice picture of your daughter.

  4. I have cosmo's planted everywhere, and can't wait for them to go to seed. They are stunning cut flowers, and the more you cut them, the nicer they get....To me a weed is just a flower that is growing where it shouldn't.

    It's all in the eye of the beholder, lol.

    Hope that all is well with you, those fires are scary.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  5. I like cosmos as a flower too! but they never survive the winter here in the small pots. And think I would enjoy having milkweed if we had monarch butterflies here.

    Good luck with the new baby! best wishes!