Thursday, February 18, 2010

Invasive plants

My main winter project, the cold frame, is finally built and waiting for a layer of paint. With the Winter Olympics on full-blast, I have stayed away from my cold workshop in the basement in favor of a cozy spot on the couch and good view of the speed skating relay semifinals. The paint can wait for another day, or at least until I have finished analyzing all the men's figure skating costumes. The amount of actual athletic content in the programming is slim compared to the commercials, emotional back story segments and commentary, and it would take a more patient viewer than I to sit uninterrupted in front of the TV for this many hours each night. Fortunately, my laptop comes in handy while enduring yet another credit card commercial and I have frittered away the time between half-pipe runs surfing the gardening Internet universe.

I stayed away from the seed selling websites for a few nights, but eventually I could no longer resist -- I wanted more information on what I already have and even started noting seeds that I will plant in a few seasons, when I -ahem - have more space. Visiting any garden retailer, be they virtual or brick-and-mortar, is, of course, a dangerous business for a woman with limited real estate and too many seeds as it is. Over on Garden Rant, Amy Stewart posted on the agony of a tempting nursery catalog despite a garden already bursting at the seams. I feel her pain. Though there are many seed sellers who I love to click on, Summer Hill Seeds is by far my favorite -- the owner (Illinois-based by the way!) favors the rare and unusual. Tidbits of interesting trivia are scattered throughout the plant descriptions, like this one, for Prickly Caterpillars, scorpiurus muricatus:

"In days past, caterpillars were added to salads to surprise unexpected diners, but not meant to be eaten mostly because they are so hairy."

I had to have them, and I am already deciding which honored guests will get this this unexpected salad surprise. Oh Summer Hill, you always manage to open my wallet.

But then -- oh, the horror! -- I stopped dead in my web surfing tracks when I saw climbing nightshade seeds on my beloved website. What? My new favorite seller is actually asking folks to pay money for these seeds? The description tells the unwitting gardener that this is a "desirable" vine with "loose clusters of beautiful star-shaped blooms". Not only is this plant potentially toxic to young children, who inevitably will be drawn to the bright red berries, but in my experience it spreads with unmatched aggression here in Chicago. Apparently, it is invasive all over North America, if one is to believe the hate mail posted in Dave's Garden forums. It is difficult to uproot and smells bad when ripped out. No matter how hard I try to eradicate the vine, my permissive neighbor always ensures that more seeds will spread my way. I have never photographed my own backyard specimens of this weed in full bloom. As I am not a poster of others' photos, the image above is all I can offer. I pulled this corpse of a climbing nightshade vine out of my neighbor's chain link fence this morning.

I know that one woman's weed can be another woman's undiscovered European heirloom, but really it is just too much to bear for me to think of my garden nemesis being intentionally planted by other gardeners. Based on the message boards, I know several folks to the south would feel the same shock and disgust that I am growing maypops, Passiflora incarnata. At least maypops are native -- and the flowers look far superior to the nightshade's. Here in Chicago, the most visibly vilified invasive plant species is buckthorn -- there is a movement afoot to get rid of it. At a Garfield Park Conservatory event, they even had crafts for kids featuring buckthorn that had been ripped out of North Park Nature Village. Yet, for those not in the local area, the king of all invasive species here in Chicago is fauna not flora. Yes, I am talking about the Asian carp. It even has its own "kill zone". I'd like to start a Climbing Nightshade kill zone, with my back yard being ground zero. As I won't resort to herbicides, its me and my garden gloves against this marauder. Come to think of it, my son might be strong enough to help me rip it out this long as he doesn't snack on the berries.


  1. Nightshade is related to the tomato plant, but as you said invasive and I believe the berries can be poisonous. Good thing that you are wearing gloves, but it does come out pretty easily.

    I am really struggling this year reading all about indoor seed starting. I still have my lights in the basement, but not the room in this house. I have my seeds ready but I have to wait to plant them outside!

  2. Gatsbys, you must have arms of steel -- I have a hard time yanking it all out, but likely this is because it is wound tightly through my neighbor's chain link fence -- still, I feel like I get it out and then there are always woody stem bases left in the ground. Sigh.