It's time to read and vote for your favorite article in the 2013 Write-Off Contest! The four finalist's articles are featured in the May 13 newsletter and can be found through this link. Hurry! Voting ends May 18.
Rarely have I met a plant that I didn't like. I am not known for digging up plants and throwing them out in the trash either. There comes a time in the life of a gardener when she simply has to stand firm: either she goes, or the plant goes, and in this case, I am not budging. I don't think the plant will budge either.
It simply popped up one day in the middle of one of my oldest daylily beds. It was an odd looking thing there among the daylily fronds, it didn't fit at all, and I dug it up. Thinking it was a weed that I had never met, I put it alongside the other weeds in a pile that had accumulated beside me. A week passed and the daylilies began to show their beautiful faces, and there in the same spot, looking as if it had never been murdered in the first place, was the same weed. This time I not only dug it up, but I also planted a new daylily in the spot where the weed had been. I promise you, there was not another root to be seen in the hole that I dug. Another week went by, and I was again admiring my daylily blooms. The weed waved at me from its spot beside my new daylily. I simply could not believe my eyes. I couldn't dig it up without disturbing my new daylily, so I cut it back all the way to the ground.
Success. Or so I thought. I have a side garden, built in a L shaped corner, and it gets only a little light. It has become a very nice shade garden, and is surrounded by an overgrown Japanese maple and an equally enormous redbud, both of which I love dearly. I also have ferns growing in the corner, some sedum, an astilbe or two, it is a nice peaceful corner. One day I wandered around the corner and noticed growing tall against the brick of the house another plant, that atrocious weed that had been growing among the daylilies. I could not believe it. There were two of them now, and the one against the brick wall, well out of sunlight, was as tall as I am. It was treelike, having a woody stem, and I simply did not know what it was. I saluted the silly thing, it had won a battle, but I was not conceding total defeat.
I watched both of them last year, determined to make a daily log of their antics, because I knew that together they were plotting against me. Along about July of last summer, the one against the bricks exploded in a burst of yellow. The crazy thing was blooming, and I was still clueless, but not for long. I carried some of the leaves and blooms inside and sat down at the computer for a few hours of DG's PlantFiles. And it truly took me an entire afternoon to identify the plant that had taken over my life. I not only identified the plant, but I also learned some things about it that I really didn't care about knowing.
My plant is wild senna, Cassia marilandica, and it grows along thickets, roadsides, in extremely dry areas, and in two spots in my yard. It is native to the United States, and is found from Pennsylvania south to Florida and Texas, west to Iowa, Kansas , and Oklahoma. It is a perennial herb growing to about 4 feet tall (I can vouch for 5 feet). Pinnately compound leaves consist of four to eight pairs of leaflets, each about 1 to 2 inches long. Bright yellow flowers with brown centers bloom from July through August and appear in short clusters in leaf axils at the ends of the twigs. They produce thick curved seed pods, about 3 inches long.
That's the good part--trust me, the only good part. There is hardly a better illustration of trusting blindly in "health foods" than the true story told of a woman who bought a packet of senna, made a tea from it, and proceeded to drink several cups. She also served it to her friends and family. After a day of intestinal agony, she realized what herbalists have known for thousands of years, that a large dose of senna tea is a potent carthartic. The American pioneers discovered that the Indians had other uses for senna. They applied poultices of the crushed roots to external skin problems and they also drank an extract of the boiled roots to treat fevers. Modern herbals list wild senna tea as a treatment for worms and excessive production of bile by the liver, as a breath sweetener, and as a diuretic. But wild senna's chief fame in herbal circles rests on its effectiveness as a laxative. The leaves are used in many pharmaceutical laxative preparations found on market shelves today.
I am so humiliated. I have this plant that is determined to live in my yard, not in only one little space, but in two of them. And it seems its only purpose in life is to be a laxative. It isn't bad looking, and I keep both of them pruned so that they don't look too shabby. The blooms are interesting, and the leaf pattern is nice. But most of the rest of my garden has meaning. People visit me, they want to hear the stories about all my plants from the mountains, about the daylilies that came from my great grandmother's yard. They love the old climbing rose that came all the way from the head of the holler in eastern Kentucky. They treasure the seeds I give them whether they come from bee balm or from the spurge that grows beside it. They laugh at the 20-foot-tall holly that the birds planted, and the magnolia that I started from seed. The love hearing about plants that come from my Dave's Garden friends. And then they see the senna.
"What is this?" they ask.
"Well, that's wild senna," I say.
"Tell us about it, what does it do, where did it come from?" they ask.
Now what am I going to say?
"It is a laxative plant, it appeared out of nowhere, and it adores my yard."
If you all have any suggestions, please feel free to add them below. I have already thought of dynamite, but I hate to lose that end of my house. I might have lost a battle or two, but the war is not yet over.
Photos are from plant files, thanks to Gregr18 for his photography.
I am a retired high school art and humanities teacher. I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of southeast KY and now I live with my two rescued cats, Jazz and Daisy, in far western KY. I am an artist often doing commissioned work, and in addition to writing articles for Dave's Garden, I also write boating stories for a nautical magazine as well as other venues. My greatest loves are writing, painting, my 5 year old grandson, then learning the history of our numerous wildflowers in Kentucky. And, of course, there's gardening.