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michigan weed with whtie seed pod

Mile-a-minute weed has light green leaves shaped like an equilateral triangle and small white flowers. They produce a deep blue colored fruit arranged in clusters. Typical infestation areas include stream banks, open space, roadsides, forest edges, and fence lines.

Cynanchum louiseae ( Vincetoxicum nigrum )

(Celastrus orbiculatus)

Black swallow-wort, also known as dog-strangling vine, is a perennial vine with shiny, oval to heart-shaped leaves with pointed tips. Flowers are small, dark purple, and shaped like stars. Seed pods and seeds are similar to those of milkweed plants.

( Pueraria montana var. lobate )

Chinese Yam has slender vines that spiral counterclockwise and pointed, heart-shaped leaves that are often indented on the sides. The bulbils or air tubers are present from June to September and resemble very small potatoes. It has small, white or greenish-yellow flowers that smell like cinnamon.

Oriental bittersweet is a woody, perennial vine that can climb up to 60 feet. It is recognizable by its bright red fruits with yellow outer membranes that grow along the stem and open in fall.

Hairy bittercress leaves have two or more pairs of leaflets and a kidney shaped terminal leaflet. Photo by Lori Imboden, MSU Extension.

Hairy bittercress is an annual weed that can spread quickly.

Once the seed pods ripen, disturbing the pods can propel the seeds as far as 16 feet from the mother plant. This seed dispersal adds to the soil seed bank and primes the area for another infestation to emerge in early fall. After setting seed, the life cycle is complete and the plants die. Hairy bittercress and other winter annual weed species, like common chickweed and purple deadnettle, are not typically present during the summer months.

Flowers and seed pods of hairy bittercress. Photo by Lori Imboden, MSU Extension.

The first true leaves of hairy bittercress are heart shaped. Photo by Erin Hill, MSU.

Have you recently noticed plants with small, white flowers on the edges of your lawn, flowerbeds and rock pathways? During April and May, populations of the winter annual weed hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) become increasingly visible. Hairy bittercress has a low growing rosette similar in form to a dandelion. It raises its profile in early spring with the appearance of flowers and seeds on a vertical stem. Like many members of the mustard family, hairy bittercress sets seed prolifically. It grows quickly and a few plants or seeds can generate a more widespread infestation in even a year’s time.

Once the seed pods ripen, disturbing the pods will send the seeds flying as far as 16 feet. Photo by Lori Imboden, MSU Extension.

If you scalp the lawn, weeds will thrive. If you water it frequently for short periods of time, weeds will thrive. And if you feed the poor heat-stressed thing in summer, weeds will take over.

Both weeds are also highly edible, especially when young. Chickweed is more nutritious than the salad greens that many people remove it to plant! And, although hairy bittercress (a member of the mustard family) doesn’t have nearly as many wild food fans as chickweed or purslane (perhaps the most edible ‘weed’), it does have some of the peppery taste of its namesake watercress, and it’s loaded with cancer-fighting nutrients. Pick it before the flower buds form and it won’t have nearly as much of the bitter edge that older plants take on. (Flowering changes the flavor of virtually all herbs and greens for the worse.)

For a Northern, cool-season lawn (one composed of cool-season grasses like rye, fescue and/or bluegrass) that means never cutting shorter than three inches, never feeding in summer, watering deeply but infrequently, and giving the lawn a big natural feeding in the Fall.

If I’m paying attention and life cooperates, I’ll pull the weeds while they’re still in flower and before they set seed. Both weeds get composted—mixed into a good amount of shredded leaves hoarded from the previous fall; at least two parts leaves to every part green weed. The bitter cress typically comes up with a good amount of soil attached to its roots, which adds microbial life to the pile; and the chickweed has a lot of water content to help keep the moistness levels right.

But I like to wait until after the little white flowers form to pull these weeds. Their flowers open up right before the blooms on my fruit trees, attracting lots of the pollinators and beneficial insects I’ll need to get a good fruit set and to fight all the pests that want to eat those peaches as much as we do.

Its small white flowers are similar to those of chickweed, another ‘unwanted plant’ that blooms early in the Spring. But chickweed is more of a flat, spreading, mat-like plant. And its seedpods aren’t faster than a speeding bullet. Both weeds are remarkably easy to control in flowerbeds; just pull them, roots and all, out of wet soil. Chickweed comes out in big clumps, while bitter cress has a nice little stalk that gives you a handle to grab onto. Just remember to soak the soil first; all weeds come out of wet soil MUCH easier than dry.

In turf, weeds like bittercress are a sure sign of poor lawn care. The answer is not to poison yourself and the environment (and kill your grass) in a futile attempt to remove the weed, but to care for your lawn correctly and deny the weed a place to live. Take good care of your grass and a harmless little plant like this should never have a chance to get established, much less thrive.