Back in ’96, 1896 that is, the USDA was explaining to farmers* that “A large proportion of the plants growing along roadsides, on waste ground or older cultivated parts of this country are migratory weeds. They’re not native to where they are now found but have come from other countries or other places in this country.” USDA could use those same words to describe our situation today. Now we call them “invasives” but they move around by the same means as in 1896.
When you think of it, plants have to be able to move or spread to make room for their offspring or find more habitable ground. That USDA Yearbook* went on to describe how plants do move about, starting with the natural methods such as runners. Others throw their seeds as the pod matures and dries. Some seeds such as dandelions or water walnuts are carried further by the wind. Some move by other clever means.Artificial methods of 1896 seed locomotion included one we don’t worry too much about these days – when “cheaper grades of imported crockery are packed in cheap hay or straw”. Or mixed with commercial seeds? The Yearbook had drawings of different seeds so farmers could identify some common “good” vs bad.
The need to clean farm machinery between work in different fields was mentioned. Hmmm, have you ever borrowed a neighbor’s mower? Or rented a tiller? They often come with seeds attached.
Even back in 1896 there were “weeds introduced as useful or ornamental plants…seed of oxeye daisy is said to have been brought to Rhode Island and planted to obtain horse’s feed.” And so on…
The point is that now is the season to keep an eye out for newcomers on your homestead. Look for plants that seem to have spread rapidly, plants that weren’t there last year, or perhaps plants that you cannot identify. Get them while they’re small and easy to control just in case they might be bullies.
If you do have a questionable plant, bring it in for identification. Remember that Extension has moved. We’re now at 49 Mt. Carmel Road in Erwin Hills. The phone number didn’t change: 828-255-5522.
*From the Yearbook of the United States Department of Agriculture 1896
Next week part II will review options for dealing with those bullies.
Written by Glenn Palmer, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.