Is it a weed or a wildflower? How do you make the call?
When I'm weeding my yard and I come upon an unfamiliar set of leaves, do you do like me and let it be for a bit? Wondering what this uninvited but determined plant will become? I do like horticultural surprises. Will it be a delightful wildflower blown by the wind only to serendipitously land in your garden? Or will be a seedy, rhizomatous monster set on world domination, taking down your garden with it? How do you handle this gardening dilemma?
We've all seen those cute little quotes about how a weed is a plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered. And I'm the first to tell you, there's almost always two sides to the story. My most common example is the dandelion. While it's a lawn lover's nightmare, bees count on it as a first source of nectar in spring.
Weed or wildflower? Hoary Vervain, Verbena Stricta, just starting to bloom
This little darling showed up as weeds seem to do, right next to something it resembled. Have you noticed this phenomenon? As a young seedling it sort of looked like the sage it sat next to. So I let it go. As it grew taller I grew more curious and let it bloom. It turned out to be a wildflower called hoary (that refers to the gray fuzz on the young plant) vervain. It's a wildflower that can re-seed and form colonies but is considered pretty harmless. Bonus: It's a larval plant host for Buckeye butterflies.
Buckeye butterfly nectaring on sedum
Are you planting for pollinators? Interested in learning more about all of these tiny but important creatures? Consider joining me on #pollin8rchat! I host this Twitter chat every Tuesday at 8pm CT. Don't know how to participate? Email me and I'll run you thru the basics.
Weed or WIldflower? Verbascum thapsus, or common mullein
And then there's these guys. Mullein. They show up looking like lamb's ears innocent cousin with those cute fuzzy leaves. You see them growing on roadsides or places where the soil has been recently disturbed. Mullein is an introduced species, originally from Europe. Like lots of other "exotic" plants it was brought to America by early settlers who valued it for the herb's medicinal properties.
The fuzzy leaves aren't as soft as lamb's ears
One single mullein can produce hundreds of thousands of seeds, therefore earning it the title of invasive meaning it can crowd out and displace native plants. Why have I let it grow, in my newly planted landscape, no less? I actually weeded out all but three of the plants. I like the plant's architectural quality, but it is close to forming seeds so after tomorrow they are on my to-do list. As in to-done!
The single buds never bloom at the same time
I've loved watching their candelabra-like stalks reach for the sky. Ants and wasps have scaled and explored the tall spires. The single blooms never bloom all at once, which makes it kind of ornery from a decorative sense. Funny it turns out, they are quite a conversation piece, people walking by always ask...and what are those?
I'm tempted to let them form seeds and watch the birds go after them but I know better. The goldfinches will have to remain content with stripping the petals from my zinnias so they can reach the seeds!
Have you face a similar quandary with a wildflower/weed? What do you do?