Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Flowers: What is a Weed?

Wild Cucumber in Bloom

A weed is a plant considered undesirable,
unattractive, or troublesome,

especially one growing where it is not wanted...

Giant Ragweed

Giant ragweed is beginning to bloom along the banks of the river and it has reached gargantuan heights this wet summer. Pollen billows through the air when the plants are bumped making a sensitive person sneeze.

Ragweed in bloom

Goldenrod is also starting to bloom and because it shares a flowering season with ragweed, it is wrongly accused of causing fall allergies. Goldenrod has heavy, sticky pollen unlike the lightweight, wind-carried pollen of ragweed and is an important source of nectar for butterflies and insects. It is available in nurseries as a garden flower.


I enjoy wild flowers just as much as cultivated ones. Nature's arrangements can be unexpectedly beautiful. But some non-native plants, while attractive, can be invasive and choke out native vegetation.

Himalayan Balsam

I wrote about Himalayan Balsam last year in this post. This plant is in the same family as Impatiens and Jewelweed but is not native to North America. It grows along river banks and the flower pods disperse large numbers of seeds. The roots are shallow and it is easy to pull out of the ground.

Purple Loosestrife

I remember admiring fields of Purple Loosestrife in the past before I learned what an invasive problem this plant is in wetlands. This European native had no natural controls in this continent and four insects, two beetles and two weevils, have been approved for release to control the plant. This has been effective, but this year I have noticed more loosestrife around. It must be time to release another batch of bugs.

Flowering Rush

I had featured this pretty plant a few weeks ago in a Friday Flowers post. When we were on Manitoulin Island in July, I picked up a brochure called "Aquatic Invasive Species: A guide for water gardeners and aquarium owners. " It lists the Flowering Rush, (butomus umbellatus) as a potentially invasive species from Europe and Asia. I only saw one single plant growing at the water's edge.

A. A. Milne said, "Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."

Invasive plants are a problem and are truly weeds, and ragweed causes many to feel miserable in the late summer and fall. But natural native plantings are becoming more popular, so I am not the only one taking a second look at the definition of a weed.


  1. What a nice tribute to our uncultivated friends. Like you, I admired purple loosestrife until I learned its history--now when I see it I search to make sure there are some cattails hanging in.

  2. Here in the South, we have kudzu... talk about an invader! Can't kill the stuff. They finally have started using goats on the hill sides to control it. That stuff is a vicious spreader.

  3. I've never seen ragweed that I know of but have always loved goldenrod. The color and fragrance are lovely and its appearance signal late summer to me. When I see it I think of change coming.

  4. Anonymous7:50 am GMT-4

    I just picked some goldenrod and queen anne's lace for my dad to add in his vase. Tucked in with a bunch of cut flowers from his garden they add the finishing touch. I used to dry goldenrod, queen anne's lace, cattails, thistles and other weeds and put them dried flower arrangements. They would last for years.

  5. Using the term weeds says so much more about us, doesn't it, than it does about nature. All flowers were once "weeds"--before people began manipulating into endless blooms, etc.

  6. I really like this post for I have a bit of an affinity for weeds. Not all kinds, but I love beauty wherever it is found and many weeds exhibit a beauty in their wildness. One late summer I became fascinated with Goldenrod and found that there are so, so many different varieties; over 100. Also fascinating to me was to discover there is a white goldenrod plant as well. Your post is very informative and very interesting to me.

  7. In Wisconsin, my neighbor proudly showed me a new flower that had come up. "And I didn't even plant it," she said. I educated her about garlic mustard and we went on a neighborhood crusade to pull up the weed that threatens the wildflowers of Wisconsin.

    I love many wildflowers, but not if they are going to invade and push out our natural ones.

  8. I love all our local weeds... um, flowers! I think if more realized the wide variety of medicinal uses for what nature provides so freely, like dandelion, they might change their opinions about them.

    Awhile ago Michael and I were driving anf I said "OH! Look at those pretty purple flowers in the ditch!" And he said "What?! That is knapweed! Ew!" Turns out it is one of local invasive problems. It even releases toxins that kill native species and it is virtually impossible to kill. They say herbicide is the only thing that kills it.

  9. makes me think of the old, old quote: "beauty is in the eye of the beholder"....and those were certainly some beautiful photographs that you shared w/us today! thank you

  10. We have problems convincing people to remove the Purple Loosestrife when they see it. I hope to plant and remove until we have only native plants in the yard and around the pond.

  11. Great blog! You have really interesting posts and this one about weeds is super. The ragweed here has been making me itch all day. And the purple loosestrife is beautiful but can sure be bad for the native plants.

  12. Weeds and flowers change places according to country as well. The beautiful white trumpet lilies often used in funeral arrangements in Canada are called Pig Weed in South Africa and choke out the shallow water much like Water Hyacinth here in Mexico
    Also the beautiful fields of cosmos here are a bane to the ranchers and I grew them in my garden in Kitchener.

  13. Himalayan Balsam is a huge problem in the UK, I believe it was brought over by the victorians.....we struggle to keep it under control.....but volunteers go out every year and get rid of as much as they can....

    Purple loosestrife is a native here.....I havn't personally seen it out of control here....infact I have it in my the right place as you say its great.....

  14. Beth- "Uncultivated friends" can be great fun ;-)

    Jayne- I have never heard of Kudzu. I looked up pictures of it and cannot believe how it covers everything!

    Lynne- Ragweed is quite regional and you are fortunate not to have it. Perhaps fall allergies are not a big problem in MN.

    Cheryl- Sound lovely! I should try to dry some.

    KGMom- How true. We can be quite arbitrary in our preferences.

    Ann- I never knew there were so many varieties of Goldenrod. I do love the hue across the fields in the fall.

    NCMW- Garlic mustard is a problem around here too. It creates a thick ground cover.

    Jaspenelle- Knapweed has a pretty flower. It is not native, but I don't see it in large numbers here. I am very interested in the medicinal uses of plants. Many plants were brought here from Europe for that reason.

    Kristin- thanks for visiting and commenting.

    RW- That is a great goal. I have many native plants because we have poor soil and it is too difficult to grow many things in our garden.


    DS- Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Keep away from that ragweed!

    Mom- Interesting about the lilies... we should leave plants in their native areas. I could see the problem with Cosmos if there was no frost.

    Cheryl- I read about Himalayan Balsam problems in England. The trouble with Purple Loosestrife here is that there is nothing that eats it other than the imported insects.


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