From the Archives: WEEDS- Give ‘Em A Break

Wireweed in Iris Bed © Bonnie Marquette
Wireweed in Iris Bed © Bonnie Marquette

Story and photos by Bonnie Marquette

 (before you give them a rake) Weeds- the bane of existence for every gardener. They’re invasive and take over our flowerbeds and carefully manicured yards. The definition of “weed” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary reads as such: “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth; especially: one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants.”The fight of weeds vs. gardeners is never ending. Since 1974, 9.4 million tons of glyphosate, the active chemical in RoundUp, has been used worldwide. [3] If a plant isn’t pretty, if it can’t be used for cut flowers or used for a photography session, we don’t want it. End of story. Or is it?

I have my own battles with weeds, particularly the plant known as “Wireweed” (Sida acuta). This stuff is everywhere in my yard! Living in a wooded area known as the Tunica Hills in South East Louisiana, I battle this plant constantly. It takes over my prized iris bog, grows in my butterfly gardens and essentially will thrive anywhere. Attempting to pull it out of the ground with bare hands results in cuts and scrapes from its woody stems. Did I mention that I hate wireweed?

From the Editor: As many of us head out to photograph summer landscapes, it’s a good time to consider what Bonnie Marquette has to say about the humble weeds we often overlook. We bring this piece back in case you missed it the first time, as part of an occasional series of articles from the archives. If you have tips or techniques that open your photographic eye to new possibilities, share them with us at publications@nanpa.org and we’ll post them on the blog.

A couple of years ago, I got into macro and close up photography. Shooting macro forces you to look at things differently. Like most photographers, I started out shooting the “pretty” things… my Louisiana Blue irises, roses and other larger, more familiar flowers. But, I wanted to go even smaller… that’s when I started noticing my weeds.

The first weed that caught my attention, was the “Creeping Charlie” weed, also known as “Ground Ivy”, (Glechoma hederaceal). This plant is actually from the mint family and produces extremely tiny blue flowers. Viewed through my macro lens, it resembled a miniature orchid and is quite beautiful!

Creeping Charlie has ecological value as it provides food for bees and other insects. It has a long history of medicinal uses and although it has been used in green salads in some countries, its safety has not been established scientifically. [1]

Creeping-Charlie

Around mid-summer, the fragrance of the wild Ligustrums (Ligustrum vulgare, also known as Wild Privet) fill the air. They produce profuse tiny white flowers and reach heights of 15 feet. The flowers are intoxicating to pollinating bees and wasps, which assemble in masses to drink the nectar. The berries produced by the plant are poisonous to humans, but readily eaten by thrushes, which disperse the seeds in their droppings. [1]

Blue Wasp © Bonnie Marquette
Blue Wasp © Bonnie Marquette

Living in the woods we also have wild Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis). It was introduced from China to North America in 1816 and is a popular garden plant prized for it’s abundant, fragrant flowers. It has however become an invasive species in the Eastern United States where the climate closely matches that of China. [1]

The plant is a climbing vine and winds its way along tree branches, sometimes choking and killing the host tree. The vine produces white, violet or blue flowers, which appear in the spring before the foliage has expanded. It also produces a fruit that is a flattened, brown, velvety, bean-like pod with thick, disk-like seeds. They mature in the summer and crack and twist open to release the seeds. The flowers provide food for bees and other insects and also provide nesting areas for birds.

Wisteria © Bonnie Marquette
Wisteria © Bonnie Marquette
Wisteria © Bonnie Marquette
Wisteria © Bonnie Marquette

Exploring back on the ground level, I noticed the bright and cheerful Violet Wood Sorrel (Oxalis violacea). The violet wood sorrel is sometimes referred to as a shamrock and given as a gift on St. Patrick’s Day.

The plant is a small, perennial wildflower that has heart-shaped leaves that occur in groups of three. It produces streaked, violet flowers from spring to midsummer. During the night or when it rains the flowers close and the leaves fold.

In one study it was determined that about half of the flowers of a violet wood sorrel patch live for only one day. The flowers are pollinated by a great variety of bees. Pollinators are attracted to the flowers by sweet secretions of the nectaries that are located at the bases of the staminal filaments. [2]

Wood Sorrel 2
Wood Sorrel © Bonnie Marquette
Wood Sorrel 1
Violet Wood Sorrel blooms © Bonnie Marquette

After much debate, being a macro photographer I just couldn’t help but finally give in and photograph my nemesis… the hated Wireweed! I was actually quite impressed with the flower of the plant. The delicate, tiny yellow flowers grow in groups of 2 or 3 with 5 petals that swirl around the middle.

The main thing that drew my attention was the amount of tiny butterflies that swarmed the flowers. Species such as the Pearl Crescent butterfly and the Chiasmia butterfly were competing with bees to consume the rich nectar in the blooms.

Pearl Crescent
Pearl Crescent © Bonnie Marquette
Chiasmia 1
Chiasmia © Bonnie Marquette
Wireweed patch with closed blooms in the heat of the day © Bonnie Marquette
Wireweed patch with closed blooms in the heat of the day © Bonnie Marquette

After taking a closer look at my “weeds” and doing research discovering the benefits they provide to my wildlife and insect population, I changed my opinion of the plants. Ridding myself of the guilt for using herbicide, rakes and other various garden tools in the past.

So, the next time you set out to do some “weeding”, take the time to really look closely and determine if your weed is in fact beneficial to the local insect and bird species. I decided to end my war on these important plants that are a vital part of the ecological cycle in my yard. Special areas were created, allowing my weeds to grow in peace with no fear of the rake!

Even the wireweed.


Sources:

[1] Wikipedia

[2] Pennsylvania State University

[3] Newsweek.com. Note also that glyphosate has been accused of being a cancer-causing agent.

About Bonnie

Louisiana resident and native Bonnie Marquette specializes in capturing the mysterious, vivid and sometimes hauntingly beautiful sights that define this unique state. Winner of numerous International, National, Regional and Local awards, her work showcases the essence of this incredible area. She also has a background in Graphic Design and magazine publishing.

Bonnie and her husband, David, also raise AKC English Mastiff Dogs. They occasionally have puppies for sale. You can find her website here: www.MeauxMastiffs.com.