On a Whim, I Left It In

– Posted in: Native/Invasive, Pests, Plagues, and Varmints, Plant info

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.–Robert Benchley

When it comes to gardening, there are two kinds of weeders in the world, those who say, “When in doubt, yank it out,” and those who “On a whim, leave it in.” I am one of the leave-it-inners. If I wasn’t, I would have yanked out Oriental poppies, lupines, and ‘Zebrina’ mallow out of my newly acquired garden, relics from the previous gardener that I didn’t recognize. My friend Bub calls them “wait-and-see” plants.

Well, I will be the first to admit wait and see is a double-edged sword. If I had followed the advice of my father-in-law, who told me, “I don’t know what it is, but it’s a weed,” I would not be pulling motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) out of my shade garden every year. In its first year, it makes an intriguing rosette of foliage, quite ornamental. In its second year, it shoots up and makes many seeds, and its flowers aren’t all that eye-catching.

Last year, way in the back of my north border, I spied a very attractive plant with blue-green leaves and maroon stems. I didn’t know what it was, so I decided to wait and see what the flowers looked like. It got over three feet tall before it bloomed in mid-August, and its flowers were underwhelming, basically the center of daisy without the petals.Devil's beggar-tick They were so underwhelming that I forgot my intention to identify it after it bloomed. (It hardly looked like it was blooming, after all.)

Big mistake.

Who knew such an insignificant flower could make so many seeds? As you might have guessed, I have plenty of this to share and more to spare–and I’m not sparing any of it. As a matter of fact, I had already pulled out the most impressive specimens before I thought to take a picture, so please check out the links in the next paragraph for better photos.

It turns out this is devil’s beggar-tick (Bidens frondosa). Even the name sounds ominous, but it’s really not that bad. Beggar-ticks are those seeds that get stuck in the sleeve of your sweater and in your dog’s fur when you go hiking through fields in the fall, and they are a devil to get out. It’s a native plant that normally grows along ponds and streams, and it provides food for muskrats and ducks. Quite possibly if we hadn’t had such a wet summer, I wouldn’t have as many of them filling every empty space on the shady side of the house. But I do, and I’m no longer in doubt. I’m yanking them out.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

Comments on this entry are closed.

kerri September 29, 2006, 10:22 pm

I’m a ‘wait ‘n see’ person too. I did that with ‘your’ weed just this year. Thanks for identifying it. I’m going straight out tomorrow morning to get rid of it!

Rosemarie September 9, 2006, 8:00 pm

What gets me are the “look alike” weeds, like buttercups that look like my delphinium. They also seem to hang out in the same places, too.

Carol September 9, 2006, 8:11 am

I’ve had my garden for 9 years, and every year some new weed shows up that I swear I never saw before. I’m heading out now to take care of them!

Jenn September 8, 2006, 7:47 pm

Motherwort! There is a name for that monster!

I had some hitchhike in on a pot of transplants (we were rescuing stuff from a construction site.)

Luckily I decided it wasn’t worth keeping when it bloomed and started getting rid of it early.

Kathy Purdy September 8, 2006, 6:14 pm

Hi, Xris–glad to meet you. My garden was “newly acquired” in late autumn 1989, and I don’t remember seeing this weed before last year. It still could have been in the seed bank, or a bird or other animal could have left it. Certainly I’ve seen a chipmunk round there before.

Cyndy–we call them hitchhikers, too, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember that name when I was writing the post.

Annie–I found the Robert Benchley quote at this website: http://www.quotationspage.com/
If you register, you can save your favorites there. And I hear ya about the garlic mustard.

M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) September 8, 2006, 4:19 pm

I’m definitely one of those “let’s wait and see what it is” gardeners. Recently someone was ranting about gardeners who leave squirrel-planted trees in place until they become pests. Why weren’t they sensible enough to pull them out when they first spotted them? In my case I’m always so astonished to find something growing, I’m afraid to touch it.

Over the years of experimentation, I pounce on to eradicate on sight three plants: smilax, horseherb, and goosegrass (which also has seeds that cling to everything.) Anything else that can get along on its own without my help is welcome here.

Annie in Austin September 8, 2006, 9:24 am

Oh yeah, we can relate to this story, Kathy. Decades ago in IL, a vaguely fernlike plant popped up and I waited, but luckily ‘saw’ the identity in a book before Garlic Mustard was set loose in that garden. A few years later we moved to another house where it was well established, and I began a 12-year battle.

I love that Robert Benchley quote! The man is still relevant. Thanks!


Xris (Flatbush Gardener) September 8, 2006, 7:36 am

“I am one of the leave-it-inners. If I wasn’t, I would have yanked out Oriental poppies, lupines, and ‘Zebrina’ mallow out of my newly acquired garden, relics from the previous gardener that I didn’t recognize.”

I as well. We moved to our house, and gardens, last Spring, just in time to start seeing all kinds of things coming up, most of which I didn’t recognize. So I pulled the weeds I reocnigzed, and left in the things I didn’t.

Getting candidate identifications early is important. Positive identification once they start to flower, and before they set seed, as you note, is critical.

Take heart: it’s probably not due to your “neglect” that you have so many. Those weeds were there long before you were. The seed bank in the soil may take many years to exhaust.

I’m still learning my new weeds, and their habits and lifecycles. I’ll have a few years of weeding before I get everything out.

cyndy September 8, 2006, 7:05 am

The hair on the back of my neck stood up when I saw the photo of the Begger-ticks…grrr…
we call them “hitch-hikers” around here, however, they are not so bad now that we no longer have our dog…..