A Guide to Names of Weeds (With Pictures)
This guide helps you identify the 22 most common weeds that you'll encounter in your yard, flower beds or lawn. Some are annuals and others are perennials—many are easy to eradicate, others more difficult to eliminate. Once you've determined it's a weed, it's up to you what you do with it! (My other weed guide, "How to Get Rid of Weeds in 6 Different Ways," suggests tips for dealing with them.)
What Is a Weed?
"Weed" isn't a botanical term like conifer or deciduous or perennial, words that mean something specific. "Weed" a subjective term but generally can be considered as an unwanted plant in the wrong place. Weeds are usually wildflowers or plants with insignificant blooms or ugly foliage, in contrast with the prettier wild flowers or cultivated and showy flowers we grow in our gardens. (It's interesting to note that many cultivated flowers self-seed or propagate themselves in other ways so readily in our flower beds, that they can eventually become a nuisance and earn the title "weed" themselves.)
A weed is an unwanted plant in the wrong place.
List of Common Weeds, With Photos
Here is a guide to the most common garden weeds.
- Latin name: Taraxacum officinale
- Height: 4 to 6 in (10 to 15 cm)
- Notes: Probably the most recognizable of garden weeds with its yellow multi-petalled flowers and fluffy seed heads, this perennial has a deep tap root, making it difficult to kill by non-chemical methods because burning foliage leaves the root intact. The deep root can only really be removed by digging out. Dandelion seeds are dispersed by wind.
2. Common Daisy
- Latin name: Bellis perennis
- Height: 1 to 3 in (2.5 to 7.5 cm)
- Notes: A low hairy perennial with spoon-shaped leaves and white multi-petalled flower heads often tinged with pink tips rising from the basal rosette. A common weed in lawns. Leaves are easy to burn with vinegar.
3. Creeping (Slender) Speedwell
- Latin name: Veronica filiformis
- Height: 1 to 2 in (2.5 to 5 cm)
- Notes: Common in lawns. A spreading, low-growing hairy perennial with small, sky blue or mauve flowers and oval leaves.
- Latin name: Trifolium repens (white clover) and trifolium pratense (red clover)
- Height: 1 to 2 in (2.5 to 5 cm)
- Notes for White Clover: A creeping, almost hairless perennial with stems that root at their leaf junctions. Leaves are trifoliate (three leaflets), similar to but larger than shamrock, with white marks. Flowers are globular.
- Notes for Red Clover: A low or tall hairy perennial. Leaves trifoliate with white patches and triangular stipules. Clover is beneficial to bees, and it also fixes nitrogen in the soil, which promotes growth of foliage.
5. Broad-Leaved Dock
- Latin name: Rumex obtusifolius
- Height: 20 to 51 in (50 to 130 cm)
- Notes: Tall perennial with broad leaves up to 10 in (25 cm) long. Flowers appear in whorls on tall stalks, often turning red. Common on bare, disturbed ground. Nettles often appear alongside stinging nettles. Crushing the leaves and applying them to a sting is reputed to relieve certain symptoms.
- Latin name: Senecio vulgaris
- Height: 16 inches (45 cm)
- Notes: A low/short annual, groundsel is a member of the ragwort family, recognizable by its small yellow flowers. Leaves are pinnate lobed.
7. Lesser Celandine
- Latin name: Ficaria verna
- Height: 1 to 3 in (2.5 to 7.5 cm)
- Notes: Lesser celandine is a member of the buttercup family and is a low to short hairless perennial with shiny, dark green, heart-shaped fleshy leaves. Flowers are yellow with 8 to 12 petals. It normally grows in shaded locations on damp ground.
8. Hairy Bittercress
- Latin name: Cardamine hirsuta
- Height: 6 in (15 cm)
- Notes: This is an annual that is easy to eradicate by pulling. However, it produces a multitude of seeds in pods. As the pods ripen and open, tension in the shell is released, flinging seeds in every direction. It propagates rapidly by this method.
9. Red Dead-Nettle (Purple Dead-Nettle)
- Latin name: Lamium purpureum
- Height: 2 to 8 in (5 to 20 cm)
- Notes: A purplish downy, low-growing aromatic annual with toothed, heart-shaped stalked leaves. Flowers are pink to purple.
10. Common Self-Heal
- Latin name: Prunella vulgaris
- Height: 3 in (7.5 cm)
- Notes: A low creeping perennial. Leaves are oval and pointed. Flowers are purple. Common in lawns and moist ground, spreading rapidly to cover large patches. A member of the mint family. Historically, the juice of the plant was used to treat cuts, boils, and inflammation.
11. Creeping Buttercup
- Latin name: Ranunculus repens
- Height: 4 to 20 in (10 to 50 cm)
- Notes: A short to medium, slightly hairy creeping perennial. Leaves are palmate. The plant sends out rooting runners as a means of propagation. Common in grassy, damp places and lawns. Difficult to remove because of its dense, fibrous root ball.
12. Cat's Ear
- Latin name: Hypochaeris radicata
- Height: 8 in (20 cm)
- Notes: A member of the daisy family. The flower is similar to the dandelion but borne on long thin stalks with a basal, fine-haired leaf rosette. Occasionally seen on lawns but more often on dry grassland.
13. Cleavers (Goosegrass, Stickyweed, Robin-Run-the-Hedge, Sticky-Willy)
- Latin name: Galium aparine
- Height: 4 feet (1.2 m)
- Notes: Leaves and stem are covered with tiny hairs, making the plant appear to be "sticky" and causing it to cling to everything. It clambers along the ground and also climbs over other plants using its hairs for grip. Flowers are tiny and green. Fruits (1/8 in or 3mm) become burrs covered with tiny hairs which aid distribution.
12. Ground Elder (Herb Gerard, Bishop's Weed, Goutweed, English Masterwort)
- Latin name: Aegopodium podagraria
- Height: Up to 2 feet (60 cm)
- Notes: A groundcovering perennial and member of the carrot family that spreads rapidly, covering large areas. Unrelated to elder.
13. Oxalis (Creeping Woodsorrel)
- Latin name: Oxalis corniculata, Oxalis purpurea, etc. (several species)
- Height: 4 in (10 cm)
- Notes: A low creeping annual/perennial and member of the wood sorrel family. Stems root at leaf junctions to form new plants. Flowers are yellow or purple. Often seen on bare/cultivated ground.
14. Stinging Nettle
- Latin name: Urtica dioica
- Height: 3 to 7 feet (1 to 2 m)
- Notes: A tall perennial with heart-shaped, toothed leaves. Plants can propagate by seed, but they also spread via stolons or rhizomes. Leaves are covered in tiny, hollow stinging hairs which break off and inject formic acid and other chemicals into skin when touched, causing a burning sensation. A plant of wate and disturbed ground.
- Latin name: Erigeron canadensis
- Height: 5 feet (1.5 m)
- Notes: An annual plant that is native to North and Central America, but can be found in Europe, Asia and Australia. It is also known as horseweed, Canadian fleabane, coltstail, butterweed and Canadian horseweed. A tall weed with hairy stems and slender, toothed leaves that grow in a spiral up the plant. Flowers are produced in dense clusters. Marestail is often resistant to glyphosate.
- Latin name: Convolvulus arvensis
- Height: Up to 6 feet (2 m) or more depending on support
- Notes: Bindweed is a clambering (spreads along the ground) perennial with heart-shaped leaves but also a climber. It twines in a spiral around the stems of other plants in order to climb, competing for light and moisture. The dense foliage can smother and stunt the underlying plant. Its twining nature makes it difficult to remove without causing damage to delicate plants. It propagates by seed and rhizome.
17. Broadleaf Plantain (Greater Plantain, White Man's Foot)
- Latin name: Plantago major
- Height: 6 in (15 cm)
- Notes: Low hairy or downy perennial. Flowers are greenish-yellow in long, thin spikes. Plantago major is a medicinal plant and the leaves have been used for centuries for the treatment of wounds and other skin conditions to aid healing and prevent infection. It is wind-propagated and grows on disturbed ground, on lawns and in pathways. It withstands trampling and was one of the plants brought to North America by colonists, known by Native Americans as "White Man's Footprint."
- Latin name: A large genus of plants including Euphorbia peplus (petty spurge, milkweed, cancer weed)
- Height: 2 to 12 in (5 to 30 cm)
- Notes: An annual plant that is easy to pull by hand. The milky white, poisonous sap can cause skin irritation and should be washed from skin with soap and water.
19. Herb Robert
- Latin name: Geranium robertianum
- Height: Up to 1 foot (30 cm)
- Notes: 5-petaled flowers in shades of pink. Weak and shallow roots make it easy to pull by hand. Foliage is covered with short hairs which makes it feel sticky.
20. Rosebay Willowherb (Fireweed)
- Latin name: Chamaenerion angustifolium
- Height: Up to 8 feet (2.5 m)
- Notes: Fireweed grows on disturbed ground such as the sites of forest fires. It spreads by seeds carried by wind and also uses underground horizontal root extensions called rhizomes.
21. Herb Bennet (St. Benedict's Herb, Colewort)
- Latin name: Geum urbanum
- Height: 1 foot (30 cm)
- Notes: A perennial weed with yellow flowers. When it matures, the ovary becomes a burr, or spiky seed head, with hooks. This aids the dispersal of seeds as they catch in the fur of passing animals.
22. Common Horsetail
- Latin name: Equisetum arvense
- Height: 4 to 36 in (10 to 90 cm)
- Notes: A herbaceous perennial in temperate regions and as far north as the Arctic. The stems above ground sprout from an underground network of rhizomes. These rhizomes fork and produce tubers, which store food and energy and allow growth in the absence of sunlight. Because of the deep tubers and extensive rhizome system, cutting and burning is ineffective, as the rhizomes simply send up new shoots to the surface. Herbicide treatment stunts growth, but sprouting does reoccur. Common horsetail is found in a wide variety of habitats, including damp open woodland, arable land, along roadsides and near the edge of streams. Most of the coal we burn today was once horsetail.
Types of Weed Roots
Weeds like other plants have different types of roots:
- Fibrous roots are thin, hairlike structures. Usually annual weeds with fibrous roots are easy enough to pull up.
- Tap roots are like carrots. Several weeds—including dandelions, dock and thistles—have these. They make pulling difficult and often, part of the tap root breaks off and a portion is left underground to grow again.
- Creeping roots are rhizomes or stolons and spread horizontally underground. Weeds that have these roots are difficult to remove because pulling leaves fragments behind. Weeds that have these roots include couch grass, speedwell and rosebay willowherb.
- Bulbil roots are like small bulbs. Lesser celandine and bluebells have bulbil roots. Hoeing topgrowth sometimes helps to starve the bulbils.
How to Kill Weeds in Lawns and Yards
Many weeds can be killed naturally either by hoeing, mulching, covering or burning with a gas or kerosene blowtorch. You can also use vinegar to burn the foliage on annual weeds and young seedlings. Weed control fabric is another option to stop them rooting down through stone paths.
For more details, see my guide: How to Get Rid of Weeds, Naturally or With Chemicals.
Weed ID Apps
I've only covered a tiny proportion of common weeds are there's likely hundreds more that that vary depending on your location in the world. For more info, try a weed app, specific to your country. Typical weed ID apps are:
- Weed ID by BASF, covering broad-leaved weeds and grasses in the UK
- ID Weeds specifically covering weeds in the Midwestern US
- PictureThis plant identifier, also covering "non-weeds"
Glossary of Botanical Terms
- Annual: A plant whose growth cycle only lasts one season. It germinates, flowers, produces seed and dies within the space of a year.
- Biennial: A plant that germinates and partially grows the first year and then matures and seeds the second year, completing its life cycle.
- Perennial: A plant that lasts more than two years. Trees and shrubs are perennials, as are some wild and cultivated flowering plants. Many weeds, such as daisies and dandelions, are perennial.
- Stolon: Horizontal stem that grows out from a plant at the soil surface or just below ground level. The tips of stolons develop adventitious roots at the tips and new shoots and leaves, eventually creating new plants. In addition to producing seeds, stolons are another strategy that plants use to propagate. Stolons are sometimes called runners.
- Rhizome: Similar to stolons, but rhizomes are horizontal root extensions that extend outwards from a plant under the surface.
- Flower: The reproductive part of a plant.
- Ovary: The plant equivalent of a womb. Fertilized ova develop in the ovary and become embryonic seeds. The swollen ovary is called a fruit.
- Basal Rosette: Leaves forming a circle at the base of the stem of a plant, usually roughly the same size.
- Stipule: An appendage at the base of a leaf stalk where it meets the stem.
- Pinnate: Multiple leaflets appearing off a central leaf stalk.
- Petiole: The stalk that joins a leaf to the stem of a plant.
To learn how to start plants from seeds, read Gardening for Beginners: 10 Easy Steps to Sowing Seeds.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Eugene Brennan