Plant or weed? Debate rages on

I spend a lot of time traveling back and forth throughout Wood County. While traveling on county and township roads, I enjoy looking at the various agricultural crops and livestock feeding in pastures.

I also enjoy watching various wildlife feeding or doing whatever wildlife does along the side of roads. This includes woodchucks, songbirds and the occasional bald eagle.

My favorite view is roadside plants — or what some people call weeds — flowering throughout the spring and summer.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica a weed is any plant growing where it is not wanted. Ever since humans first attempted the cultivation of plants, they have had to fight the invasion by weeds into areas chosen for crops.

Some unwanted plants later were found to have virtues not originally suspected and so were removed from the category of weeds and taken under cultivation. Other cultivated plants, when transplanted to new climates, escaped cultivation, and became weeds or invasive species. The category of weeds thus is ever changing and the term is a relative one.

I guess my first favorite — though not really a roadside plant — is the dandelion. The Dandelion, (Taraxacum officinale) blooms normally in mid-May. A field of dandelions blooming is a sure sign of spring. Unfortunately, this gorgeous field of yellow turns into gray blowing puffballs of seed. It goes from plant to weed in a short period of time.

Onto roadside plants. Blooming in late April to early May is Dames Rocket (Hesperis matronalis). Dames Rocket was introduced into North America in the 17th century as an ornamental flowering plant. Somewhat naturalized in the United States, it is often mistaken for being a native species, sometimes being found in native species seed mixes, although it is not a native plant. A member of the mustard family, it has showy purple, pink to white flowers. It is considered a biennial or short-lived perennial. Interesting the States of Colorado, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Tennessee have listed Dame’s Rocket as noxious weed or as an exotic pest. Even with knowing this I cannot condemn this plant as a weed.

The next roadside plant is Chicory (Cichorium intybus). Chicory originated in the Mediterranean and became distributed throughout much of the world where it was grown for centuries as a salad green and as a coffee substitute, being bitter and having no caffeine. Its cultivation in North America began in the 1700s and ended in about 1950 when it became more economical to import. During that time, chicory escaped cultivation and naturalized populations spread throughout southern Canada and the United States. Chicory grows abundantly beside roads and highways. It can also be found in lawns, pastures, fields and waste places. Folk remedies used chicory roots for jaundice, spleen problems, as well as constipation in addition to a tea made from foliage that promoted bile production and released gallstones.

Do you know what makes it my favorite besides the release of gallstones? It is the blue flowers appearing in mid to late June.

Next is the common ditch lily (Hemerocallis fulva). The genus of daylilies Hemerocallis derives from two Greek words meaning “beauty” and “day.” This refers to each flower lasting a day, but each plant has many blooms that provide ongoing color over a season. Daylilies are native to China, Japan and Korea. The ditch lily flowers orange and appears normally in July. It is the source plant for the array of daylilies we have today. The plant’s nature is to spread by rhizomes underground. Like the Dames Rocket, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has listed the common ditch lily as an invasive species. So, is it a plant or a weed?

My final favorite comes into bloom August through September. If you guessed Canadian Goldenrod (Solidago altissima) you would be right. Many folks call this a weed as they believe it causes late season allergies or hay fever. Although goldenrod is often blamed for hay fever because it is in bloom late in the season, ragweed is the actual culprit. The Canadian Goldenrod is the state wildflower of South Carolina. It has a central stem, or sometimes stem clusters, 2 to 6 feet tall, supporting masses of small, dark yellow, plume-like flowers. This plant may become weedy as it has allelopathic compounds that suppress the growth of other plants causing it to be the dominate species. Besides being a roadside plant, it can be cultivated in a landscape for its tall yellow blooms in the early fall and is deer resistant.

As you travel across the countryside on our rural roads you can decide what is a plant or a weed.