Weed need to talk. Those roadside weeds might look pretty from your air conditioned car at 70 mph but they have a dark side up close and personal. I was out running the other evening and noticed the finches playing and feasting in a field of wild teasel Dipsacus sylvestris. Many of those blooming weeds we see coloring our roadsides in late July have 3 common characteristics. 1) They are not native and were introduced years ago (usually from Europe). 2) They produce copious amounts of seed (thus the abundance) and 3) They have characteristics that crowd out other native species.
Wild teasel or Dipsacus sylvestris or Dipsacus fullonum (which looks and sounds like a caption you would see below Wile Coyote in a Road Runner episode) has light lavender florets that bloom their way up the cone. The plant was introduced from Europe in the 1700s and can reach a height well over my head. If you like making fall floral arrangements you may have dabbled with this natural phenomenon. Listed as an invasive species it is referred to as “common” because it appears on the invasive map in almost every state of the continental United States. In other words good intentions hundreds of years ago have gotten a little out of hand. The flower/seedhead cone-shaped structure is “prickly” and eye catching.
Another character out there trying to make a statement is a purplish/flowering weed that isn’t very friendly to others in it’s space. You may spot swaths of these flowers along the roadside belted in your cool and comfortable car as you jam to your favorite tunes. It’s called Spotted Knapweed Centaurea biebersteinii or Centaurea stoebe and it too is classified as invasive. Introduced in the 1800’s from Europe it too seeds readily and crowds out native species. I see it growing well in sandy dry areas because Spotted knapweed is poisonous to other plants, creating barren areas where only knapweed grows. It is a threat to pastures and dry ecosystems including prairies and dunes.
Finally two other weeds that can make a dramatic statement to our summer time vista. Giant mullein, Verbascum thapsus, is a perennial herb that was first introduced into the United States in the mid-1700s. It grows like a rocket in it’s second year (a biennial) and like others produces copious amounts of seed for future generations. Common mullein is native to the Mediterranean countries and Eurasia. In its second year of growth, the erect flower stalk that can grow from 2 to 8 feet tall in “short order”….I mean fast. Alternating woolly soft leaves attach directly to the stem in a pattern to direct rainwater down the stem to the plant’s roots.
The other weed that makes quite an impact due to again seed production would be Queen Anne’s Lace, or Wild Carrot Daucus carota. Originally introduced from Europe, you’ll find it in fields, yards, roadsides and parking lots, in other words….everywhere July-September.
Its white flower is an umbel and large that in a group setting can rival the clouds in the sky. Check out this picture I took of a field dominated by their influence.
When it dries, the flower closes up into a “bird’s nest” that holds sticky seeds……A creative method used by invasives for transport on your pants. They’ll use the wind, birds (who make backside deposits) and other wildlife for transport of future generations as well.
So put down that soft drink and have your hands on the wheel in a 10 and 2 position. Look out the window at the roadside landscape and wonder at the miles these weeds have traveled in their adventure to be a part of your life.
Finally, last but not least has to be Chicory (Cichorium intybus), a plant introduced from Europe. The light blue flowers catch your eye and are about one to one and a half inches wide. It likes sunny neglected spots, such as roadsides, fields or lawns not maintained and has a height of 1 to 4 feet.
Just like daylilies, each flower blooms one day, to be replaced by another the next. And remember chicory root is used as a coffee substitute!