Seed Pod Weed

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Seed Pod Weed This photograph from Wikipedia speaks volumes to the importance of the milkweed. Asclepias tuberosa is a favored nesting site for the Monarch butterfly. At summers end, the wild Official Blog of the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County information about bindweed

Seed Pod Weed

This photograph from Wikipedia speaks volumes to the importance of the milkweed. Asclepias tuberosa is a favored nesting site for the Monarch butterfly. At summers end, the wild plants we have growing at the shop will be covered with their larvae. The Monarch larvae feed on these leaves. The butterfly weed is a favored host in my area. They will spin cocoons; the mature butterflies will emerge some four weeks, give or take. Only once have I witnessed a mature butterfly emerging from its chrysalis-it happens that fast.

Asclepias has much to recommend. The plants are long lived, utterly drought resistant, and carefree. The flower heads of asclepias tuberosa are orange and gorgeous. Asclepias incarnata has flower heads that are a quiet shade of dusky rose. But my main interest in them is the seed pods. The pods are large, ovate, and a compelling shade of bluish green. In late summer, this green phase dominates the plants.

Once the seeds begin to ripen, the pods will split along their length.

Our local fields and meadows are full of the remains of the milkweed pods come November. They have an elegantly spare and ruggedly persistent shape.

But the white fluff inside is what interests me the most. Each butterfly weed seed is firmly affixed to its own white silky and fluffy airplane. These white silky hairs catch the wind, and aid in the dispersal of the seed.

How plants set seed is an event any gardener would appreciate. How the milkweeds insure the survival of their seed is nothing short of miraculous.

From Wikipedia: The milkweed filaments from the follicles are hollow and coated with wax, and have good insulation qualities. As of 2007, milkweed is grown commercially as a hypoallergenic filling for pillows. This commercial use does not interest me as much as how the butterfly weed seeds itself. A milkweed seed with its virtually weightless attendant white fluff is a little and subtle miracle I never tire of. Every year, the marvel of it enchants me.

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Once those seeds emerge, that fluff is everywhere. It will stick to your hands, your clothes, your shoes, your trowel, and your wheelbarrow. An individual seed is large, and relatively speaking, heavy. How this plant has evolved to insure that these big seeds get dispersed is but one of countless stories engineered by nature. I have had occasion to design and install fairly complex landscapes, but this design and execution is beyond compare.

Any landscape designers best ally is what comes from the natural world. All it takes is a lot of observation, and then some serious thought. As my friend and colleague Susan Cohan says, art does not necessarily have to work. No artwork needs a white silky airplane to be. A work of art lives independent of time,conditions, and circumstance. Good landscape design is a craft, in that every moment needs to assess the conditions, fire up,and fly.

The milkweed seeds about to fly is a day in the gardening season I look forward to. I would hope these plants would find a foothold in many places. I like that the Monarch butterfly feeds and reproduces on a plant that has a plan to not only enable these beautiful creatures, but reproduce.

Much of gardening is about the physical issues. The dirt, the water, the drainage, the weather, the maintenance, the beginning, and the ending. But there are those singular moments that float.

There is a day every gardening season when I make the effort to launch the asclepias seeds. It feels good to think I am doing my part.

Do these seeds need me? No. Nature saw to this efficient dispersal long before I ever took up a trowel. But I do it anyway. This white fluff I put in the air makes me feel good.

Seed Pod Weed

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

I’ve become fascinated with this weed, at least so far. I’ve more-or-less got it under control in my garden. I really don’t remember it from years ago, but it sure has been a pest the last 5 years or so. Not a native of California, it is now here for the foreseeable future… and beyond. I can’t say it’s the worst weed in the garden, but it sure requires attention to keep it under control. Especially these days when it will be competing for available water.

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Even if you didn’t recognize it outright, maybe you’ve had the experience of being out in the garden pulling winter weeds when you’re pulling what looks like a small “innocent” weed only to find it exploding seeds in your face and all over the nearby garden? The most likely culprit is Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), which starts growing almost immediately with the onset of the late winter rains. It originally looks like a small, flat rosette of small leaves and then in what seems like the next day, quickly produces small white, four-petal flowers on wiry green stems. Most of the problems with this weed can be “solved” if you pull it at this stage or at least before it flowers. Seemingly overnight, the flowers form needle-thin seed pods, which explode at the slightest touch, sending seeds in all directions (averaging around 600 seeds per plant… and the bigger the plant, even more seeds). Besides your garden, the seeds are easily propagated in cracks in flagstone, brick or concrete walkways.

Because Hairy Bittercress thrives in moist conditions and disturbed soil, it is also a pest in nurseries, and can be brought home via plant purchases. If you think that’s a problem for you, some cautious gardeners carefully remove the top inch or two of soil in the pots before planting. (If you do this, you should dispose of the scraped-off soil in your green can.)

If all else fails, Hairy Bittercress is a member of the mustard family and is edible, but you need to do your own research to find the right recipe to enjoy it (for an example, see http://www.eatingniagara.com/2013/04/weed-wednesday-make-that-hairy.html). To get ahead of its persistence in the garden, it’s definitely worth patrolling your garden for this weed once or twice a week during the winter and spring. It’s easy to hand pull when young. Once the seeds pop, you’ll be fighting a much bigger crop next year and it’s rare that herbicides would be considered appropriate for control in a home garden.

Another reason it’s my “favorite” weed? I still remember a fellow student in our Master Gardener class relating how she had “convinced” her young son to help weed the spring garden and he was complaining about the weed seeds popping in his face. She answered him by telling him to go in the house and get his safety goggles on and keep on weeding… something you might be considering adding to your gardening tools if you let Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) go to flower and reseed.

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Bindweed

Field Bindweed · Convolvulus arvensis L. · is a perennial broad-leaved plant that spreads over the soil and other structures, and often form mats. Leaves alternate along the stem. Leaf size and shape will be varied; typically leaves are up to two inches long and egg-shaped. Flowers are typically white, but often they are light pink and have two leaf-like structures half-way between the main stem and the base of the flower, which is a distinct characteristic.The flowering stage is when most field bindweed is noticed.

The root system is what makes the weed so hard to control. Roots can extend to as far as 30 feet deep. These roots compete with crops for moisture and nutrients, and give field bindweed an advantage over the newly seeded crops by already being in the soil.

Seed pods are egg-shaped, 1/4″ in diameter, and contain two to four seeds. Seeds are shaped like a slice out of an orange, small (only 1/8″ long), and covered by rough raised dots. Though small, these seeds can lay dormant for as long as 30 years.
Specific Control

Field Bindweed is a noxious weed that can be a severe problem in the largest field or the smallest garden. A summer herbicide treatment will control existing growth and eliminate seed production. For lasting control, a three-phase treatment plan should begin at first blooming and continue through fall:
Phase I Treat Field Bindweed with an approved herbicide or control measure shortly after flowering blooms appear. Phase II Retreat new bindweed growth approximately 30 to 45 days after the initial treatment or when 12″ – 18″ runners exist. Phase III Retreat returned bindweed growth with an approved systemic herbicide after the first frost in the fall, but before nighttime temperatures reach 20°F. Chemical Controls

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