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Weeds We Love

Updated on July 3, 2017
The Dirt Farmer profile image

Jill volunteers at community gardens & learns about gardening through the MD Master Gardening Program & MD Master Naturalist Program.

Virginia Meadow-Beauty
Virginia Meadow-Beauty | Source

Strictly speaking, weeds are plants that grow where we don't want them to.

But these weeds are so awesome, we love them just about anywhere they grow. And wildlife loves them too, especially birds and pollinators.

Creeping Charlie

In our flowerbeds, Creeping Charlie grows alongside creeping thyme.
In our flowerbeds, Creeping Charlie grows alongside creeping thyme. | Source

When Creeping Charlie first started growing in our flowerbeds, we did our best to eradicate it. But eventually we stopped trying.

Source

It is a good groundcover— as good as the creeping thyme we planted on purpose.

With its round, scalloped leaves, it provides thick, uniform coverage around our bedding plants and helps prevent soil from washing into walkways.

It also conserves moisture, making it a haven for earthworms.

Dig up a patch, and you'll have handfuls of roots, soil and wriggling worms.

(You'll also get a nose-full of ickiness, as Creeping Charlie has an unpleasant, astringent odor when disturbed.)

Source

In early spring Creeping Charlie develops tiny purple flowers. Later, seed pods appear beneath its dainty green leaves.

The only downside to this weed we can see is that it's not a "steppable" like thyme. Foot traffic will damage it, causing it to yellow and die.

Plantain

Source

Oh my, do we love plantain!

Like snapdragons and toadflax (also a weed), plantain is a host plant for the Common Buckeye butterfly.

Common Buckeye butterflies attach their eggs to the undersides of the leaves. Later, as they grow, Buckeye caterpillars eat the plantain leaves— lots of them!

The Common Buckeye
The Common Buckeye | Source
Source

Plantain has a homely charm.

If mown, it grows close to the ground, like a green disc. Left alone, its long thin leaves form a mound, which in summer produces slender flower stems that can reach up to a foot.

The flowerheads are small, subtle bursts of white fireworks.

At the Elms Environmental Education Center butterfly garden in Southern Maryland, plantain grows alongside showy natives like silky dogwood, blue false indigo, orange butterfly weed and lyre-leaf sage.

Here at home, we mulch around any plantain that appears in our flowerbeds.

Yes, it's a weed. But it's a super cute one!

Queen Anne's Lace

Closeup of a Queen Anne's Lace flowerhead.
Closeup of a Queen Anne's Lace flowerhead. | Source

If you're not mowing around Queen Anne's Lace, it's time to start.

Europeans first introduced this dainty weed to North America in the 1600s, and it immediately fit right in, providing nesting materials for blue jays and food for black swallowtail butterfly larvae.

Queen Anne's Lace seeds also attract aphid-eating wasps. And it's flowers are pretty in bouquets.

What's not to love?

To grow Queen Anne's Lace, scattering seed is best. Like milkweed, it has a taproot and doesn't transplant well.

A patch of Queen Anne's Lace in a field on our farm in WV.
A patch of Queen Anne's Lace in a field on our farm in WV. | Source

Virginia Meadow-Beauty

Meadow-beauties sweet pink flowers bloom from late-May through September.
Meadow-beauties sweet pink flowers bloom from late-May through September. | Source

We discovered all sorts of lovely weeds when we stopped mowing the edges of our lawn, and Virginia meadow-beauty was among the loveliest of all.

In the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, meadow-beauty grows naturally in wet, loamy areas that get plenty of sun.

On our property, it has established itself in the transitional strip of land between the woods and our driveway. There, along with other weeds, it forms a spongy buffer zone that soaks up water and prevents erosion.

Patches of Virginia meadow-beauty grow along the forest next to our driveway.
Patches of Virginia meadow-beauty grow along the forest next to our driveway. | Source

Meadow-beauty begins blooming in late May and continues producing showy flowers through September. Its deep pink blossoms have long yellow anthers that attract pollinators.

As the plants complete their life cycle, red fruit capsules appear alongside blooms, making meadow-beauty visually interesting throughout the growing season.

Blooms and fruit appear side by side on Virginia meadow-beauty.
Blooms and fruit appear side by side on Virginia meadow-beauty. | Source

A recent study in the UK shows that "weeds play a surprisingly important role in feeding and attracting birds" (See link below).

Any Kind of Milkweed

Common milkweed grows along the edge of a walkway in Historic St. Mary's City.
Common milkweed grows along the edge of a walkway in Historic St. Mary's City. | Source
A Monarch caterpillar munches on Orange Butterfly Weed, a type of domesticated milkweed.
A Monarch caterpillar munches on Orange Butterfly Weed, a type of domesticated milkweed. | Source

Two types on milkweed grow in our yard, and we wish we had more.

Native to the eastern United States, milkweeds are host plants for Monarch and Queen butterflies.

They're also nectar plants for many others, including Clouded Sulphurs, Viceroys, Common Buckeyes, Cabbage Whites and Zebra Swallowtails.

Milkweed primarily grows in patches in meadows and along roadsides. However, any sunny, open area will do.

We grow orange butterfly weed in a landscaping island.

Butterfly weed is a domesticated species of milkweed about a foot tall. It has a compact habit and striking orange flowers.

An Eastern Black Swallowtail sips nectar from orange butterfly weed.
An Eastern Black Swallowtail sips nectar from orange butterfly weed. | Source

Swamp milkweed grows wild in sunny spots along waterways. It also grows by our rain barrel, where it appreciates the occasional overflow.

Swamp milkweed looks a lot like common milkweed. It's tall and leggy, with erect stems and big leaves that contain milky sap. Like other types of milkweed, it's a host plant for Monarchs.

A Cabbage White butterfly sips nectar from common milkweed growing by a park path.
A Cabbage White butterfly sips nectar from common milkweed growing by a park path. | Source

There are many species of milkweed— 12 in the state of Maryland alone, although some of those are endangered.

Roadside mowing, agribusiness practices, urbanization, and other factors have reduced milkweed populations drastically, which in turn has adversely impacted the Monarch butterfly.

Will you say, "No mow"?

See results

According to some experts, isolated milkweed patches in home gardens will not solve the problem, as Monarchs need more contiguous milkweed crops to sustain them.

But wait! There's hope.

If we say, "No mow!" and let our roadsides, fence lines and ditches go wild, milkweed will be among the first weeds to grow.

Milkweeds That May Grow Near You

Milkweed Species
Botanical Name
Interesting Fact
Identifying Features
Common Milkweed
Asclepias syriaca
Used by park services to monitor ozone levels, common milkweed often grows in areas that have been disturbed by human activity.
Has milky sap; erect stems; large, thick leaves; bumpy seed pods; and purplish-white flowerheads.
Swamp Milkweed
Asclepias incarenata
Swamp milkweed grows in sunny, wet locations. Look for it by lakes and rivers.
Looks like common milkweed but with pink flowerheads.
Poke Milkweed
Asclepias exaltata
Poke milkweed doesn't mind dry conditions. It's often found in meadows.
Looks like common milkweed but with drooping lilac flowerheads.
Butterfly Milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa
Unlike the milkweeds above, butterfly weed doesn't have milky sap.
Looks unlike common milkweed with narrow, alternate leaves and orange flowerheads.
Green Comet Milkweed
Asclepias viridiflora
Like butterfly weed, green comet milkweed doesn't look much like common milkweed. It grows in dry soils in rocky meadows and woodlands.
Looks unlike common milkweed with green, comet-life flowers and wavy leaves.

© 2017 Jill Spencer

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    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 months ago from United States

      Hi Natalie! Good to hear from you. Really all native plants have their place in the ecosystem, so . . . if you like the look of them, why not nurture them? All the best to you! Jill

    • profile image

      Natalie Frank 3 months ago

      Great article. We don't usually think of weeds as anything other than plants we want to get rid of. This sheds a new light.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 4 months ago from United States

      Thanks for stopping by, Larry! Appreciate it.

      Donna, I actually almost included violets in this list! They are so pretty in the spring. And they're host plants for butterflies, too. Thanks for commenting. Best to you and your family, Jill

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 4 months ago from USA

      Hi Jill - Another great article! I recently had this discussion with my dad. He was talking about getting rid of violets in his lawn, and I said I thought violets were pretty. He called them a weed. I always thought that weeds were plants that did damaged to a lawn or garden, but my dad's definition was any wild growing plant that you didn't want. Glad to see someone else sees beauty in the "weeds"!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 4 months ago from Oklahoma

      Very educational!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 4 months ago from United States

      Hi Mary. Your coconut farm with all its lovely weeds and lovely coconut trees sounds ideal to me. What you say about the houseplants/weeds sounds right now that I think about it, as so many are tropical and subtropical plants. One man's weeds are another man's houseplant, I guess! lol Thanks for commenting! All the best, Jill

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 4 months ago from United States

      Thanks for your comment, Fullerman5000. Getting the photos is always the biggest challenge for me, as I try to take them all myself. For this hub, however, I did use two from Wikimedia Commons. Thanks again! Best, Jill

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

      We have 8 acres in Brazil where we farm coconuts for the coconut water. Here we have a wide variety of weeds which flower.

      I often chuckled because some of the weeds we have are used as houseplants in the UK, where I used to live.

      It surprises me that even the tiniest flower attracts insects. I am all for keeping an area wild.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 4 months ago from United States

      Thanks for your sweet comment, Ms Dora. You always know the right thing to say.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Finally, someone to promote respect for weeds! Sure, live and let live and -like you- make our lives simpler. Thanks for setting us free.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 4 months ago from United States

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Linda. I absolutely agree with you. Weeds are really lovely plants and not at all the same as invasives, which have been brought in from other places & don't quite smoothly fit into the ecosystem they find themselves in. They give weeds a bad name! Happy gardening, Jill

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a lovely article. It discusses one of my favourites topics—wild plants. I enjoyed reading your descriptions and looking at your photos very much. Like the plants that you describe, the so-called weeds in my area are often beautiful and can be very useful. I don't consider them to be a problem, except for a few kinds that can quickly grow out of control and smother other plants.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 4 months ago from United States

      My life got a whole lot simpler once I started loving Creeping Charlie. Now I don't really have any "weeds" in that bed. (:

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 months ago from Houston, Texas

      When I was a child growing up in Wisconsin we had fields in our area as well as woods. I used to pick wildflower bouquets for my mother and grandmother. Many of them were in fact weeds but equally beautiful to cultivated flowers.

      Your photos are beautiful! This was interesting to read. We do have Creeping Charlie in our garden beds. Sometimes I pull it out but after reading this I may just let it continue to grow.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 4 months ago from United States

      How wonderful, Liz! Your property sounds like a lot of fun. I was reading about a project to bring hedgerows back to farms in CA. Sounds like you may already sort of have that.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 4 months ago from Oakley, CA

      Very interesting article with great photos! I've known for a while about milkweed and the butterflies; sadly, though, hubby is allergic to milkweed, so we have to keep our land clear of it.

      It's also a 'no weeds tolerated' policy in our vegetable garden. The lawn, though, is another matter. Mostly green, it's a conglomeration of "real" grass and pesky weedy varieties such as bermuda grass--I think that's the one that makes those long, trailing stems that tend to wrap around your feet and trip you! As long as it's green, we don't much care. LOL

      Where we are, at the edge of California's Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta area, our soil is pretty much pure sand, so plants that love 'well-drained' soil do well; those that like wet feet, not so much.

    • Fullerman5000 profile image

      Ryan Fuller 5 months ago from Louisiana, USA

      Interesting article. I did not know that there are beautiful weeds out there. Great photos to go along with a wonderful article. Good job. I really liked this hub. Interesting and different. I love how you named the weeds too.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 5 months ago from United States

      Hi John, I recently learned that thistle usually grows in soils that lack potassium. I thought that was interesting. We have dandelions, nettles, thistle and mallow here, too. You can make weed tea to use as a fertilizer out of all of them by soaking weeds stuffed in pantyhose in 5-gallons or so of distilled water (out of the sun) for a week or two then bubble it for a full day and night using a fish tank bubbler. That will make a strong decoction you can dilute (1-20 parts) in water. But from what I've been learning, letting weeds grow and bloom, at least in some areas of your property, is the best way to go, as they provide a food source for pollinators which in turn attract birds, making the ecology more healthy and diverse. Thanks for commenting, John. I hope you are keeping well.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 5 months ago from Queensland Australia

      A very nice article with beautiful pictures, Jill. I don't know if we have these weeds where I live in Australia but they don't look familiar. We do however have many other useful weeds like dandelion and nettles. We have recently moved and the most predominant in our yard seem to be thistle and mallow (the hens like thistle)do you know any other uses for them?