Weeds We Love
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.
When Creeping Charlie first started growing in our flowerbeds, we did our best to eradicate it. But eventually we stopped trying.
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.)
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
A recent study in the UK shows that "weeds play a surprisingly important role in feeding and attracting birds" (See link below).
- The Birds and the Weeds: A Farm Conservation Love Story | Grist
Weeds are crucial to keeping birds and other wildlife alive.
Any Kind of Milkweed
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.
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.
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"?
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
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 grows in sunny, wet locations. Look for it by lakes and rivers.
Looks like common milkweed but with pink flowerheads.
Poke milkweed doesn't mind dry conditions. It's often found in meadows.
Looks like common milkweed but with drooping lilac flowerheads.
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
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.
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.
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© 2017 Jill Spencer