Welcome to the wonderful world of weedy plants!
Weeds are superevolutionary products of human civilizations and activities - without humans there would be no weeds, just wild plants.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Weed advertising: Verizon

On Verizon Wireless latest poster for their new Samsung smartphone they put a nice fruiting dandelion on the screen. Now why?

Dandelions are kind of like wireless, spread effortlessly with the wind, nearly invisible... Or maybe they just followed the example of the iphone4's poison ivy weed theme..? :)

Species: dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae

Monday, February 20, 2012

Going once, going twice, going invasive!

I just read an interesting article (see citation at bottom) that describes various ways that species become invasive, and if invasive is really a good word to use.   Often there is a lag time between the first introduction until a species becomes common, overwhelming, and invasive.  The author argues that this lag time often is not a result of a biological process, but simply a continuous time for more introductions of the species to the area and human-mediated dispersal. Here are some quotes, laying out this theory:
"A single initial introduction may act as exclusive founding population. In the British Isles, all populations of the highly invasive Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica are supposed to descend from one single clone probably introduced in 1848."

"Most frequently, however, successful non-native species are introduced repeatedly and often discontinuously over long periods from one or more original ranges into a new one."

"The success of these species was, in terms of naturalisation, poor with 7.4% naturalised. In contrast, 41.2% of the deliberately introduced taxa achieved naturalisation." {this is from a 1912 study in France}
Note the comment at the end, that deliberately introduced and spread taxa are the ones that become invasive, much more so than the accidentals.  The article describes the situation in Germany, but I think you would have a similar case in the US.  Some of our worst weeds were deliberately spread by humans and promoted as solutions to problems (kudzu for soil erosion and multiflora roses for hedges, for example).  Very interesting read.

Article, source for quotes: Kowarik, Ingo. 2003. Human agency in biological invasions: secondary releases foster naturalisation and population expansion of alien plant species. Biological Invasions 5: 293–312, 2003.

Species: Kudzu, Pueraria lobata, Fabaceae.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

From the blogs: The IKEA Maskros Chandelier

The Design Ties blog is writing about the popular lamp from IKEA that was inspired by a dandelion ('maskros' in Swedish) in fruit, with all the little feathery parasols ready to blow off.  Click on this link to the blog, and check out the various photos.  Pretty nice!

[Species: Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae]

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Some plants have really unusual features.  This edible crop and weed, purslane (Portulaca oleracea), has capsular fruits with a top that 'pops off', so that the seeds are then exposed to weather and wind.  This particular type of capsule is called circumscissile, and for this particular plant is could be that the part that is left below with the seeds functions as a splash cup.  I don't know, but it is not unlikely.  The little black seeds would then splash out of the cup when a raindrop hits the cup, and disperse further than just normal falling down out of the capsule. (Note to myself, research needed!)   

Splash cups are not that common, but also occur in the bird's-nest fungus. While looking up purslane I found out that one plant can produce more than 240 000 seeds per season.  Well, it is good it is edible then.

You can read more about purslane and this photo here

Photo credit (c) Arjo Vanderjagt on Flickr

Species: purslane (Portulaca oleracea, Portulacaceae)

Company named after weeds: Cirsium Garden Design, UK

Cirsium is the name of a garden design company in Hook, Hampshire (UK), and also the Latin genus name for one of the thistle genera. I love their logo - go to their website to see a larger version.

Genus: thistles, Cirsium, Asteraceae

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Interior design: Cow Parsley wallpaper by Vanillaprint

Cow parsley is a weed of Europe, and much loved (at least in Sweden) for its detailed, airy white flower heads in early June. By late fall the fruits are still standing on the dry stalks and they often last partly through the winter. 

It is in the same family as the American Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota), which is the same species as carrot.

The interior design company Vanillawood in Portland, Oregon, USA, made a wallpaper featuring this species.  It comes in many colors, take a look here. Lovely pattern!

I don't know how or why this company settled on this species, but cow parsley is becoming an invasive weed here in the US. It is classified as a "Class B noxious weed" in Washington State, USA, and is widespread as an invasive weed both in both northwestern and northeastern USA.  It is mostly called wild chervil in the US.

It is a bit disturbing that a lovely wildflower plant you remember from your childhood and that you strongly associate with long Swedish summer nights are suddenly horrible weeds in another country.  The same thing happened to purple loosestrife, which was one of my favorite flowers on the Baltic seashores.  Here in the US it also is a horrible invasive species. 

Image (c) Vanillawood, used with permission.

Species: Anthriscus sylvestris, Apiaceae, cow parsley, wild chervil

Friday, February 3, 2012

Taste testing: Fentiman's soda - Dandelion and Burdock

Fentiman's is a UK brand of sodas licensed to be made in the US. This Dandelion & Burdock version includes extracts from two weeds: dandelion root and burdock root.  It also includes ginger, anise, and pear. I wrote about this weedy product earlier, but here is a more scientific investigation.

I had a little taste test of this carbonated drink that I found (surprisingly!) in a local supermarket.  I asked over 20 students and family members to write down their thoughts on the smell and the taste and if they liked it or not.  The result?  Overwhelming positive!  Funny enough, many people said it smelled like bubblegum, and in particular Bazooka Bubblegum.  I better look that up, maybe there is some burdock in the Bazooka brand.

Comments from tasters:
Tastes like bubble gum. Tastes exactly how it smells
Strong smell – mellow taste – almost like cream soda/root beer – I liked it
Harsh nose – alcoholic almost – light on palate – doesn’t hold carbonization – flat – does not linger on palate
Delicious! Smells a little strange, but tastes great!
It’s good. A cross between root beer and bubble gum. And perfectly carbonated.
Love it! I bet it would be good with vanilla ice cream, or by itself as an after-dinner treat.  It has a nice fragrance.
Smell – sweet, like cream soda. Taste – light, not overpowering sweet, bazooka bubblegum aftertaste, but scant.  Overall quite delicious.
It tastes like black licorice, smells like a bad cough medicine.
A grassy licorice taste at first, a sweet aftertaste.
Tastes like Dr. Pepper, mixed with Jaegermeister (I assume it is the herbal qualities I am picking up). There is a slightly cherry or plum sort of undertone that probably gives me the Dr. Pepper. Also reminds me a bit of Ricola throat drops. These are all positive, however. It’s more refreshing than super sweet fruit sodas and colas.
I think it tasted good, light and fresh. Just like cola with some herbs.
Taste like one of the traditional Chinese medicines, a little bitter for the first 5 seconds and then coming with really good sweet taste. I like it!
I found this to be nice and light, less sugar than other sodas.
Overall, not bad, but needs more sugar. Nice texture and taste; aftertaste like bubblegum.
I liked it, but didn’t love it… It’s a bit too sweet for my taste. And very ‘fruity’. I would drink it with no effort, but it is not my favorite drink in the world.
Not enough flavor for a soda.  Maybe more sugar, it lacks a flavor kick.
It is really sweet. I don’t really like it, it is too sweet.
It kind of reminds me of cough syrup.
Weird aftertaste. Reminds me of Peptobismol, but I like that, this is all right. Smell like old-fashioned Amish candy.
It is the best tasting soda I have ever tasted in my life.
It smells good. It tastes good, just too sweet.
There is clove in this smell.
Smell – I really don’t like it, some old weird candy.
Smells like Bazzooka bubble gum.
Species: Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae
Species: Burdock, Arctium, Asteraceae

Monday, January 30, 2012

Seeds Flying Away

A photo showing the very efficient fruit dispersal by wind of thistles, which are relatives of dandelions. Both are the sunflower family, Asteraceae.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Art design: Cattails and reeds as fabric print

Swedish designed and printed fabric from Ljungbergs Textiltryck, called 'Kaveldun' (=cat tail). Lovely. Cat tails (Typha) is in its own family, and reed is Phragmites in the grass family.  Both are wetland plants, and common both in Europe and North America. I love the cigar-shaped dense flower heads of the cat tails. Phragmites is among the most widespread plants in the world. There is some artistic freedom in this pattern; in real life cat tail stems never branch as shown in this print.

Species: cattail, Typha sp., Typhaceae
Species: common reed, Phragmites sp., Poaceae
Image © Ljungbergs Textiltryck, 'Kaveldun'

In the news: Survival of agricultural weeds

A press release on ScienceDaily summarizes a new study comparing how long seeds from two species of weeds (Chenopodium and Amaranthus, Amaranthaceae) survive under conventional vs. organic farming:

The answer: no strong conclusion either way, the result is mixed. Here is the original article: LINK (doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1614/WS-D-10-00142.1)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A fence won't stop a weed

poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, Anacardiaceae by Vilseskogen

Here are some stems of poison ivy, climbing up a chain link fence at Rutgers University campus, without any problems at all. In fact, I bet the plant will win over the fence in a few years.

Species: poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, Anacardiaceae
[photo by Vilseskogen on Flickr, Creative Commons]

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Weedy moss on a brick building

moss weeds on brick building
Brick wall mosses, photo by Vilseskogen on Flickr (Creative Commons license)

Mosses can be weeds too.  I remember reading that the best way to get rid of moss is to scrub the bricks with bleach with an old toothpaste.  Who would do that?  Remove this gorgeous beauty?

Art design: Dandelion wall paper by MissPrint

There is a very cool wall paper design based on a mobile of dandelions (Taraxacum vulgare, Asteraceae) designed and sold by MissPrint, a small UK company in several colors.
[image used with permission from MissPrint]

Need to see how a dandelion looks like?  Here!
This design actually looks a bit more like Queen Anne's lace when you see the fruiting heads side-ways, but the design is named 'Dandelion' so that the designer's creative freedom showing off.
Species: dandelion, Taraxacum vulgare, Asteraceae

Design: Lamp "Maskros" (= dandelion) from IKEA


[photo by Vilseskogen, Flickr, Creative Commons]
Species: dandelion, Taraxacum vulgare, Asteraceae

Species: Multi-flora rose

rosehips from multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora, Rosaceae)
One of the worst weeds in New Jersey is this gorgeous red-fruited rose, multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora).  It spreads its thorny, fast-growing, end-rooting branches like wild fire in the open meadows, and is hard to kill off.  But the fruits, true but small rosehips, are gorgeous in the December sun. This species is a horrible invasive in the US and originally from Asia.

Species: multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora, Rosaceae
[image by Vilseskogen on Flickr, Creative Commons]

Goats love weeds...

They love them so much they eat them to death, and this is being used in Los Angeles (California, USA) by Environmental Land Management who rent out weed-cleaning goats.  You can read the story here in New York Times.

Drought-tolerant gardening in Austin, TX

Instead of pouring rare water over lawns of grasses not adapted to heat and drought, plant a prairie of native plants that you let go brown in the summer drought. A great article on projects like this in Austin, TX was recently published in The New York Times.  A short excerpt, showing how perception is strongly linked to knowledge (or lack thereof) for many people:
“People were asking: ‘What are all these weeds? Why aren’t we mowing?’ ” Mr. Simmons said. So he started giving talks to the community, and his team gave tours and handed out educational material.
“Six months later, when we decided to mow, to make the wildflowers show up better in the spring, we got all these calls saying, ‘Why are you mowing down our prairie?’ ” he said.

Product: Weed trimmer toy

The toy that creates people with OCD gardening syndrome - a Home Depot toy weed trimmer.  It is only $9.98, and a great buy of plastic made in China, I bet.  Give the kid a real metal shovel instead to dig up some thistle roots. Let kids do real things, and learn about the real outdoors.  But maybe that is too much to hope for, when there are so many gadget-happy parents in the US.

Not all weeds are edible or even palatable...

cat spits out weed
Smokey The Cat tried out some leaves of the yellow foxtail (Setaria, Poaceae), but spat them out.  When it comes to edible plants, it is important to remember that some things that are edible do not really taste good, and that some things that taste good actually are toxic.  So, don't go by the taste only.

[photo by Vilseskogen, Flickr, Creative Commons]

How to identify weed species

I didn't find "conspicious, raised, anchor-shaped veins"

To be able to identify plants to a certain species, you will need a good flora, a handlens, and a little patience while you learn the botanical terminology that describes plant features (stipules, petiole, sepals, and things like that). 

Some plant groups are a lot harder to identify than others, like the Polygonum genus in the rhubarb family Polygonaceae for example (see photo above). For them you will have to look at tiny hairs and glands through the handlens, but for many others it is enough to compare the photos in a photo flora.  It depends. But to be sure, then you need a book (flora) that includes all the species in our area and usually something to magnify the plant with.

If you find something that looks unusual, you can always press and dry it and show it to a botanist later for confirmation.  A photo is often helpful, but many species you can't tell apart from photos.
[photo by Vilseskogen, Flickr, Creative Commons]

Red berries mean bird-dispersal

When you see a plant with red, fleshy berries, then its fruits are most likely eaten and dispersed around by birds.  Here is an example, the invasive species Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera mackii, Caprifoliaceae):
honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii, Caprifoliaceae

Birds are attracted to red, a color many other animals can't see, and since birds fly about, bird-dispersed plants are often widely spread, including to far away islands.

Keep in mind that about 50% of red fruits are toxic to humans, but not to birds, since their stomach acids are less strong, and their digestion works faster, so the toxins in the seeds are therefore not affecting the birds as strongly.

Do not eat any red berries if you aren't 100% sure what species it is. Unless you are a bird of course.
[photo by Vilseskogen, Flickr, Creative Commons]

The salad is at your feet

Jane Kramer writes about her foraging adventures in Europe in The New Yorker article The Food at Our Feet.  On the New York Times blog City Room, they have a series in Urban Foraging by Ava Chin, writing about purslane picked from the sidewalks of the city, and much more.

Species: purslane, Portulaca oleracea, Portulaceae

Abner Weed, founder of the town of Weed, CA, USA

The tiny lumber town of Weed in California got its name after Abner Weed, and they have a Weed Historic Museum (another link). Of course, the museum is not about weeds, but about the town, but I wonder how Abner Weed got his name in the first place.

weedIf you do a search for the last name Weed on FamilySearch.org, a genealogy website, you get over 130,000 people named Weed. But the same person is listed several times, since Abner Weed has over 6000 hits, and many might be the same person listed several times.

He was born in Maine, moved to California, and the 1910 US Census list a rather mixed group of people in his household; his wife Rachel and himself, both 67, and 9 males of 18-35 years of age. None of them had his last name, but non-English names such as Yuck Wa Wong, Franz, Luigi Panzera, and Florence Rossi - I wonder if they were workers renting rooms from the Weed family.

Another entry in the 1910 census listed Abner and Rachel and two sons. And a third census entry, under his son's name, lists his father, and another giant row of mill workers.

Hard to keep track of all these Weeds for the census workers back then. So some research is needed to really figure out who lived with who...
"In its early days, Weed was like other towns of the wild west. Weed acquired a bad reputation, which later was used to vilify it for many years. The Redding Free Press described Weed as the "Sodom and Gomorrah of Siskiyou County." That description was not without some justification. Whiskey, cards, a pocket full of money, or an empty pocket, and a beautiful woman occasioned many of the joys and also the tragic events of the town. Gun shot wounds and murder were occasional happenings." (source)
The world's largest sawmill was here in the 1940s, says Wikipedia.
[Image by Corey Denis, Flickr, Creative Commons license]

Climate change scenarios in New York State, what about the weeds?

From the 2011 report on the potential long-term effects of climate change in New York State (pdf here, very interesting read):
"Carbon dioxide fertilization tends to preferentially increase the growth rate of fast-growing species, which are often weeds and other invasives."
"Increased weed and pest pressure associated with longer growing seasons and warmer winters will be an increasingly important challenge."

Iowa's old cocklebur farms

From an article in New York Times, about how the high crop prices are making farmers plow and put golfcourses and old, unused farmland into agriculture again:
In Iowa, the nation’s biggest producer of corn and soybeans, farmers insist that they are simply getting more value from their land. Darrell Coddington, a farmer who runs an excavation business, has spent much of the past year clearing additional land in the hilly and wooded southern part of the state, including places that used to be left alone and derided as a “cocklebur farm,” referring to the thorny weed.
Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) is a very interesting-looking plant. It is in the Asteraceae, the sunflower family, but the fruits are covered with horrid, sharp spines (easy to get around if you are stuck to an animal!). It used to be the perfect food for the now extinct parrots of the South; now however, it is an invasive weed that loves rich and often sandy soil.  It is a nasty thing to step on and is also toxic.  Any good features? Sure, it makes a yellow dye and it repels pests from crop plants close to it.

Company named after weeds: Dandelion Corporation

Dandelion Corporation is an advertising company in Newport Beach, CA, USA has a homepage with a dandelion on it.  'Like dandelion fruits we want to spread our ads through the air', or something like that.  They actually didn't say that, it is my interpretation on why you would want to pick Dandelion as your company profile.  Millions of little downy parachutes sailing effortlessly through the air, spreading your marketing efforts. Here is the homepage, and I especially like the soil on the bottom.

Species: dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae)

Weeds in advertising: GM China

A giant field full of dandelion heads releasing their seeds in the wind, who would have thought of that as an ad for GM? Link to image and info: Print advertisement for GM China by Bates Advertising.

I guess GM wants the symbolism of all the green, as in green = good, or is it something about weeds spreading far and taking over?

(species: dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae)

Sculpture art inspired by weeds: Beverly Penn

From dusty, dry Texas roads (I imagine), artist and art professor Beverly Penn gathers weeds and uses them as inspiration for her exquisite metal sculptures.

The statement for her 2006 show puts both weeds and society in perspective:
"At least since the advent of agriculture in the Neolithic Age, humans have been attempting to control and improve nature, a process that increased in magnitude and momentum during the industrial period. We created machines that are quicker and stronger than we are, and modes of transportation, communication and building construction that are ever more rapid and more predictable. In the wall-hung sculptures that comprise Weeds, artist Beverly Penn addresses the sacrifices that accompany these capabilities, such as escalating energy emissions, disappearing forests, and compromised personal privacy and identity."
More of her works at Lisa Sette Gallery. There are several plant species used in her work, at least thistles (Cirsium?, Asteraceae) and knapweed (Centaurea, Asteraceae), but also others.  I would have to look at them closer to be able to guess better.

Weed whackers and the nature of weeds

Weed Whackers

'Coal and Ice' (Seamus) on Flickr took this great photo of weed removal tools, and also wrote a long and insightful piece as part of the photo description.  Head over to Flickr and read it here. 

Do you know all the tools?  There is a scythe, string trimmer, Ryobi, grass whip, clippers, Fux, weed cutter, corn knife...  Coal and Ice has it all explained in his post on Flickr.

[Photo (c) Coal and Ice, Flickr]

Species: Yarrow and nosebleeds

The weed yarrow is a native here in the US, but it is also present in Asia and Europe.  It has been used medicinally for a long time.  Its botanical name, Achillea millefolium (Asteraceae), is of course after the Greek god Achilles, and millefolium after a 'thousand leaves' since the leaves are so finely dissected. 

When I was a kid in Sweden, they told us stories how in the old times, school kids would take a piece of the leaves, which have sharp tips on each little leaflet, and put it in their nostrils before a boring class at school.  A while in during the lesson, the kid would just slightly touch its nose, and a profuse nosebleed would start, and wow, the kids got immediately excused from class.

Yarrow is also cultivated here in the US, so it is one of those weeds that the horticulturalists can't really decide if it is good or bad.  Maybe it is just an interesting plant?

Species: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium, Asteraceae)

[Image from Lindman's Bilder ur Nordens Flora (Swedish), public domain]

Species: Indian Balsam

Impatient plant (Indian Balsam, Jättebalsamin, Impatiens glandulifera), invasive weed in Sweden

This gorgeous flowering plant, up to 3 m tall, is an invasive wetland and wet soil weed in Sweden.

It is native to India and was first found in Stockholm harbor in 1928, and now it is common in many parts of southern and central Sweden, especially around Stockholm. This photo is from an area north of Stockholm, in Gävle near the Baltic Coast.

The fruits are impatient, thereby the genus name Impatiens. When you touch the mature fruit it explodes in your hand (video here) and the seeds are shot away to new places for new plants to grow. But the flowers of this invasive are gorgeous, dark pink and orchid like.

Species: Indian balsam, Impatiens glandulifera (Balsaminaceae)
[photo credit: Vilseskogen on Flickr, Creative Commons licensing]