zaterdag 16 juni 2012

The weeds in my street [2012] [38 plants]

"Know the flowers" - Gary Snyder

'Weed' - a plant that is self-propagating and 'wild', not a plant that is necessarily unwanted or harmful.  

'My street' - The street where I live in Whiteladies, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

My botanical skills remain poor but I would love to become one of these forage dandies who without blinking an eye can smugly recognize a plant from a single leaf from 100 meters away as if it is the commonest thing in the world. Mind you, when there of two of those types together arguments over correct identification are bound to follow and the certainties of one individual turn out to be another person's bluff. Since the previous edition of weeds-in-my-street in 2011 I have learned a few new names and the confusion of plants is slowly becoming less of a confusion. Hopefully this will help in seeing all plants. The Weeds in my Street is a working document (last update mid June) and I will add pictures as the year progresses.

As far as I can remember there never used to be that many wild plants in the city. But somewhere along the line, only a few years ago, local authorities decided to stay away from weed killers and manage weeds with ecological means. In Utrecht the city council introduced these four-wheeled street blow-dryers to burn the crap out of wild plants. This form of weeding, I see these cars maybe 3 or 4 times a year, is beneficial to plant diversity. It creates an environment that is welcome to many different plants, provided they are fast growing and not to picky. It will also lock out some other plants that need more time to reproduce (the biannual yellow primrose say?). By weeding with heat no plant gets a chance to dominate and diversity is the result. It's only my theory (based on work on biodiversity covered earlier) and I would love to hear what an expert would say.

The ultimate aim of this project? To be able to name all weedy plants in my street, to know where they originate from, to know a little about edibility, pharmaceutical properties and the lore associated with them. In the end I want to give a number to plant diversity in my own backyard, I want to get a sense of plant communities in street conditions in comparison to other local but different environments. 

For some plants I have added notes from 'Sturtevant's edible plants of the world' but this turned out to be a tedious task without real benefit.

Several readers have helped me identify plants here and their help has been much appreciated!
These red valerians were identified with your help (earlier) and they are now preparing for summer on top of the unweeded ones of last year. Sturtevant tells us that "Red Valerian is said to be eaten as a salad in southern Italy."

The hollyhock is the empire weed of summer around here and I can't stand them, I do find it endearing that their leaves are concave and can collect rain or, in this case, dust. Sturtevant: "This species grows wild in China and in the south of Europe. Forskal says it is cultivated at Cairo for the sake of its leaves, which are esculent and are used in Egyptian cookery. It possesses similar properties to the marshmallow and is used for similar purposes in Greece."

This plant has been fascinating me for a while; the shape of its leaves, its symmetry, even its pleasant colour have made me take a fancy to it. Only when I finally learned about its yellow four-petal flower did I learn its name: greater celandine and its not just any other plant. It is part of the family of the poppy and a greater celandine poisoning should be treated as a morphine overdose. So it's a storehouse of chemicals and widely used in herbalogy and pharmacy. In my street this plant is not yet flowering but a few blocks from here it is; is that what they mean with urban micro-climates? Sturtevant: "The leaves were eaten as a food in China in the fourteenth century." It's part of the Papaveraceae or poppy family and native to Eurasia.

Last year I asked about this plant and it was suggested by several people that it is a creeping buttercup, however, I have now learned, the cr. buttercup has bright yellow flowers while this common weedy plant has white flowers. Readers Felix and Bobby independently suggested wild geranium and indeed we are dealing here with a plant that is native to North America and escaped from ornamental gardens. Its qualities as a carpet-growing ultra-competitive plant are without doubt: they can make the most of sunlight from whatever angle it is coming.

The red dead nettle can be found in all my wild food guides and it certainly is a pleasant plant to behold. Sturtevants disappoints: "Europe, northern Asia and naturalized as a weed in some places in the United States. The red dead-nettle, or archangel, is eaten in Sweden as greens in spring."   

The dandelion! It is so common that you tend to forget about them but they are the true superweeds, the plant on which the sun never sets as Alfred Crosby had it. And when looking at a Dutch dandelion, where it is perfectly in place I try to think about all those places where it was not in place originally and is now and my mind boggles. I was on my bike the other day and I saw them growing in the fields along the busiest road here and they were perfectly inconspicuous, growing here and there, pleasant not weedy. It's edibility is well known and Sturtevant's entry is long and extremely dated, a fragment:
The dandelion is highly spoken of as a spring green by various authors and has been used as a food plant in many regions but it has only recently come under cultivation. When a swarm of locusts destroyed vegetation in the Island of Minorca, the inhabitants subsisted on this plant, and, in Gottingen, the dried root has been used as a substitute for coffee. In 1749, Kalm speaks of the French in New York preparing and eating the roots as a common salad but not usually employing the leaves. The plant is now eaten raw or cooked by the Digger Indians of Colorado and the Apaches of Arizona. In 1828, Fessenden says the wild plant is used by our people but is never cultivated. In 1853, Mclntosh, an English author, had never heard of dandelions being cultivated. They are now extensively cultivated in France, and, in 1879, five varieties appeared in the French catalogs.
Street conditions aren't optimal for the stinging nettle but this specimen growing between the paving and the curb gives a fine example of its acumen for survival. It's cultural legacy is large and varied. Sturtevant's entry on the nettle is a muddle: "Naturalized in America from Europe. The nettle, according to Sir Walter Scott, was at one time cultivated in Scotland as a potherb. Nettle tops, in the spring, says Lightfoot, are often boiled and eaten by the common people of Scotland as greens, and the young leaves are often boiled in soup in the outer Hebrides and form a very palatable article of food, it is said. The tender tops are much more commonly eaten in Germany, Belgium and other parts of Europe than in England and are also used in northern Persia. "

The common groundsel  is a loner. There is only one of them in my street and I have seen them only sporadically in the neighbourhood. This is again a persistent plant that grows everywhere and doesn't care about frost. It has a long herbal history, it was used as defence against witches and placed in cribs to protect babies from evil. At least it is well-willing.

The hairy bittercress (but am waiting to see the flowers to be 100% sure) is part of the mustard family and a well loved urban foraging green. The first picture is a spectacular case of making the most of a rotten situation, the second shows it in better form. Sturtevant: "Ross calls this the scurvy grass of Tierra del Fuego; it is edible. Lightfoot says the young leaves, in Scotland, make a good salad, and Johns says the leaves and flowers form an agreeable salad. In the United States, Elliott and Dewey both say the common bitter cress is used as a salad."
Reader Ed in the comments believes that is something else and he could be right, who helps us out.
The picture is a bit dodgy but here is the common chickweed. In a few weeks it will show its flowers:lovely shaped white petals. It thrives on disturbances and has a long history of use. Sturtevant: "This plant is found in every garden as a weed. It forms when boiled, says Johnson, an excellent green vegetable, much resembling spinach in flavor and is very wholesome." 

Thale cress is one of many fragile-looking white-flowering plants that are not fragile at all.

Shepard's purse is another fragile white-flowering plant, but one with many uses and a more pronounced cultural history.

The prickly poppy, from Africa and Eurasia.I can't remember it from last year but it needs very little space and is very dominant in some places.
The creeping woodsorrel (between a prickly poppy and a dandelion) has a tangy lemony taste but if you eat to much of it can inhibit calcium intake, or so Wikipedia tells us. 

The plantain/plantago comes in 200 species, we have seen it as the Englishman's foot and I am glad it's in my street too.

The only ground elder in Whiteladies that I know about, but it grows in shadowy places and this might well be the shadiest place in my street. I am told it is great in pesto. It's just so weedy. 
Never before did I hear of the yellow corydalis but like the greater celandine above it's part of the papaver family. It originates from the alps and it's a plant that easily escapes from gardens. The drooping flowers I find slightly distasteful.

 This is perhaps the strangest find: I associate white clover (also Dutch clover) with grass not with pavement, and I have yet to find it elsewhere here. It's a plant of the old world that is now common elsewhere.

With my zombie camera skill the Wall lettuce proved unable to capture with anything near the finesse of a garden magazine but this is a fine plant with bright five petals flowers that are actually 5 different rayflowers. It's part of the Composite family (actually: Aster) and native to Europe.

With help from reader Claude I learned that this plant is the alkanet (the dutch name is fascinating). It's an escaped garden plant native to south-western Europe in the family forget-me-not

I tasted this plant and I thought it was some sort of rucola, but it's a bog yellowcress, part of the mustard family native to Europe, Asia, North Africa, and North America. Nice plant, not terrible abundant but growing here and there with a mild persistence.
You just know that this must be an escaped garden plant, it's the Servian Bellflower, as the name says it originates from the Dinaric Alps in the Balkan and it's in the bellflower family. This one grows between the Red Valerian above, which makes for a good colour combination. 

This one I can see when I am in front of my front door, it's between the the curb and paving on a parking spot. This is a kind of Galinsoga, the flowers are very distinct. It's in the Aster family and first arrived in Europe from South America in the late 18th century. It looks a vaguely like nightshade and one of it's nicknames is potato weed. There is a whole range of herbal uses for this plant. 

The common sowthistle belongs to the Aster, the English Wikipedia deals entirely for its edible and medicinal properties. It's native to Eurasia.

The hedge mustard is a common plant here and it is of the mustard family . It has unobtrusive little yellow flowers and the stalks look coiled. Wikipedia tells us that at places it is cultivated. It's native to Europe and North Africa.

In Dutch this plant is the 'American Herbcress' but it is better known as Virginia pepperweed or peppergras. The young seedpods can be used as a substiture for black pepper, hence the name. It's an introduced specie from America that arrived here in silence, packed with grain and grass seeds. It does well in cities only. It's in the Mustard family.

Unmistakably pigweed or common knotgrass. A plants that likes to be walked on and is so in abundance. It's in the knotweed family and common throughout the world.

Canadian horse weed is a common throughout the country and in my street. The plants was first reported in France in 1665 and spread from there throughout Europe. It is amazing to see how fast these things grow, elsewhere they have started to bloom but due to shade my street always lags behind. It's in the Aster Family.    

If I am not mistaken ferns are usually a sign of undisturbed ground and, so far as I can tell, this tiny male fern is the only specimen of its kind in my street. 

 Another fern, the wall rue, it likes wet cement.

This one grows behind a metal fence, the size of the flowers make me suspect this is an escaped ornamental plant rather than a traditional wild plant; two readers suggested the Nettled leaved bell flower. It's primarily a wood plant. 

 A tiny redshank, it's a common species, according to Dutch Wikipedia the seed is collected by bird-lovers. Of the knotweed family, native to Eurasia.

Tansy grows everywhere but in my street it has found a home in only one ornamental flowerbed. Glad it's here. It's of the Aster family and native to Eurasia.

With it's strong stem and thorny leafs this plant stands out, the day after the picture was taken its identity revealed itself: a tiny bit of yellow flower had popped out and the thistles seemed a bit more thistly. It is a sowthistle but not an ordinary one like above but a swine thistle

There are 2 black nightshades in my street, both in the same flowerbed. One looks poorly and the other is doing OK. My street would improve with a bit of black magic and this is a great find. It's native to Eurasia.

This is the purple top. It's growing here in a untended flowerbed but the plant itself can be seen all over in those parts of the neighbourhood where people have flowers. So is it wild? It may be,they are wild nearby. The picture on the wikipedia page looks the same as this one, the picture on the Dutch wikipedia (ijzerhard) makes me think that the above plant is a cultivated South-American variant. I am including it here, but will not count it.      

This plant is growing at selected street sides in the neighbourhood and they were taller than this paltry specimen. Readers suggested common chirocy an there is a resemblance but I am not sure. Are you?  

Found in a flowerpot next to someone's front door: a daisy hiding itself between a bunch of bell flowering cultivated freaks. I have started taking notice of what family plants belong to and such a common plants has to be a composite. 

A plant with an archetypical flower (as children draw them). A reader identified it as a Bacopa, or to be more precise the Sutera.  A garden website points us to the 'Sutera cordata Snowflake'. So this is yet another escaped garden plant. 

A diminutive plant that can be found at three or four places in my street. Two reader helped identify it as a Epilobium or Willowherb which a is gigantic family. It probably is a square stemmed willowherb but put that between brackets for now.

+++++ One plants lacking a name, can you help?? ++++

 Sole representative of an unknown species. An escaped garden plant? Do you know it?

9 opmerkingen:

  1. Hey Wilfried! You're really becoming good at it! I'll see if I can find anything in my little dear book that I've cherished for 30 years now:

  2. "The drooping flowers I find slightly distasteful." excellent comment! keep up the good work!

  3. Beautiful survey! I know what you mean about that odd distaste for certain plants (your hollyhocks for example). I have a similar thing with Aqualegia/columbine.
    For me it has no relation to edibility or usefulness. I really love Greater Celandine for its orange latex (try tearing off a leaf) and the fact that I *almost* ate some once, thinking it was a mustard of some sort. Now I have an affectionate "You almost got me that one time!" feeling towards it.

    Good to learn about pigweed too - that is ubiquitous in some places round here but I never got round to looking it up.

    One correction: Your "hairy bittercress" is definitely not that. I'm not sure what it is - maybe a speedwell of some sort? Bittercress will be smaller than the shepherd's purse, and have a rosette shape. The leaves are pinnate and distinctly kidney-shaped.
    This is a young specimen, but once they get larger and bushier, the flowers and seedpods will be obvious.
    Also when you crush a leaf it will have a very distinctive cress smell, which for me evokes science classes at school:

    One of my favourite plants. I hope you find some, and good luck figuring out the one in that photo!

  4. The middle missing link looks like verbena bonariensis -- probably an escapee from a garden, they've been featured prominently in spring sales, at least here in the U.S.

    The stalks can grow quite tall, and the seeds last through the winter above the snow here. It's very amusing to watch the birds learn to alight, hold on while pendulum-ing back and forth, and peck away without losing their footing.

  5. Excellent weblog, been reading bits of it all day. The bottom unknown plant looks like common Chicory to me (Cichorium intybus), related to dandelions. It mostly grows in the compacted clay soil of roadsides here in the US, rarely seen in better soils, but has quite a range and history of uses. Keep up the great writing and explorations!

  6. Unknown #1 could be: Epilobium Montanum. Basterdwederik.

    #3 looks so easy, but I couldn't find it in my book.

  7. Hi Gary,

    Finally I have time to check out your blog again. My aunt in America (!) sent me the link (I live in Amsterdam.
    What you call bitter groundsel looks to me like the leaves of a campanula. Were there purple bells, hanging or standing upright?

  8. Second remark: the first unnamed plant is a willowherb, probably broadleaved willowherb,
    The second one... I know it, but can't find it. It could be a mint, but I'm not sure.
    The last one - if the flower is white - is a typical basketplant - bacopa!

  9. Hoi,Gary:
    Last plant is lavender-hysop,out of the mint-family (labiatae).