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weed grows in vine sticky round seeds causes skin irritation

But no matter what you call it, if you do any kind of yard work or gardening, you’ve probably rubbed up against this annual whose seeds germinate in the cool wet weather of late winter and then grow rapidly into swirly, sticky stems of green that glue themselves to your fence, your pets and your socks.

Here’s what certified Austin herbalist Ellen Zimmermann of Sharing the Wisdom of the Plants (www.ezherbs.net) says about sticky Willy: “Cleavers, Galium aparine is a highly valuable medicinal herb. It is used to boost the immune system, particularly to support and cleanse the lymph system. It is also quite useful as a urinary astringent as it assists with inflammation. It is a wonderful spring tonic, cooling for fevers and acts (in older herbal terms) as a blood purifier.”

Corn gluten meal is an organic pre-emergent treatment recommended by many organic sources to help control annual weeds. Some gardeners swear by it, but others say it’s not very effective. I haven’t tried it, but I’m planning to before next spring. (Some of my sticky Willy is already blooming, so I might have missed my best chance to stop its spread by yanking it out.)

She says the important thing to do now is to get lawns healthy again, so that invading weeds won’t find a welcoming environment.

Some gardeners call it the Velcro plant. Others know it as cleavers or sticky weed. My favorite common name for Galium aparine? Sticky Willy.

The story of the arrival of giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) to North America is a common one. Like Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), for example, it was discovered growing in its native Asia by Western plant explorers, who found it highly ornamental. They brought it back with them, first to the U.K., then to the U.S. Only after it had escaped into the wild in its new homelands did people start to realize what a potent enemy they had let in. In fact, the potency of giant hogweed is indicated in its genus name, Heracleum, a nod to Heracles, the famously powerful hero of Greek mythology. This weed may, in fact, be the worst of the itchy-rash plants. It can cause not only rashes but even blindness.  

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Do you depend on the rhyme, “Leaves of three, let them be!” to identify poison ivy and poison oak? You should not. While it is true that poison ivy has three leaves (as does poison oak), these plants are far from being the only weeds with three leaves. Moreover, the rhyme is quite useless for poison sumac identification, because poison sumac’s leaf is shaped like a feather. So instead of relying on rhymes, learn to identify these plants properly.

What you may not know is that you can also come down with an itchy rash from contact with lesser-known noxious weeds that commonly grow in the yard.

Giant Hogweed

John Burke / Getty Images

It is widely recognized now that the ragweeds (both the giant variety and common ragweed) are the worst culprits behind hay fever in the autumn. What is not so widely known is that the ragweeds can also cause skin rashes if you touch them.   Once you learn what ragweed looks like, remove it from your property (while wearing gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, etc.) so that you do not accidentally brush up against it while performing yard maintenance.

Yes, there is a skin rash just waiting to happen when you step out into your yard. Learn to identify the plants in question. Once you know what they look like, you can eradicate them (or, at least, avoid them).

Stinging nettles cannot swoop in on you and deliver a burning sting, as can yellow jackets. But if you accidentally run through a patch of these plants with bare legs, it will feel a bit like a swarm of tiny yellow jackets just attacked your appendages.

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