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Looking for Weeds in All the Wrong Places: Meet Creeping Charlie aka Ground Ivy

By Toni Leland (tonilelandFebruary 8, 2010

Creeping Charlie (or Charley) is a common visitor in many regions and once it settles in, it's as hard to get rid of as free-loading distant relatives! Understanding the conditions under which it thrives will be your best defense against this pesky weed.

Gardening picture

By now, you may think I'm a weed-hugger. Possibly true, as many so-called weeds are beautiful in their own right. Thinking about how this country must have looked before we settled it makes one wonder why we are so insistent that weeds-be-gone! However, the plants that invade our domestic gardens are always more hardy, more drought-tolerant, more reproductive, and more aggressive than the tender perennials and shrubs we so love. These "weeds" often arrived with our forefathers.

A Visit From Uncle Charley

Talk about your distant relatives! Commonly known as ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea is native to all of Europe and Asia, and arrived in North America with the earliest settlers. The species naturalized rapidly and now encompasses the northeastern United States and southern Canada.

This aggressive little plant is known by many names: cat ivy, cat's foot, crow victuals, field balm, variations of "gill", ground joy, hayhofe, haymaids, hedgemaids, hove, lizzy-run-up-the-hedge, robin-run-in-the-hedge, run-away-robin, tun hoof, tunhofe, turnhoof, and wild snakeroot. In the British Isles, it was called alehoff and was used to flavor beer before the use of hops. It is sometimes called creeping jenny, but is no relation to the domestic ground cover we know as creeping jenny/moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia).

Creeping charley is a perennial weed and shows up very early in the year. Here in Ohio (Zone 6), it never really dies back, rather goes dormant and turns reddish-brown. Once the temperatures warm even a little, it greens up and makes a run for it. It does best in damp shady places, but will also keep you company in open sunny spots. Once it penetrates the lawn, it is very difficult to get rid of without using chemicals (and you all know how I feel about that), but according to the Ohio Agriculture and Research Development Center, the only sure method of removing ground ivy from lawns is removal of the top layer of soil which contains seeds and roots.* Control in flower beds and other areas can be fairly well accomplished by hand pulling as needed, especially before the plants set seed.

This weed from the mint family (Lamiaceae) is actually rather attractive with its ruffled leaves and sprawling habit, and is purposely cultivated in England as a ground cover. In early spring, small purple flowers appear in clumps of 2 to 6; later, the plant produces pods containing four dark brown "nutlets". Even though these seeds are abundant, the plant reproduces mainly by creeping stems which root at the nodes. These stems can grow to 30 inches, but the upright portions of the plant seldom reach 8 inches tall.

Livestock poisoning has been recorded, but is not common since the taste seems to deter animals from eating it. However, when ground ivy infiltrates hayfields and is cut and baled with edible forage, the possibility for poisoning increases, especially in horses. Signs of toxic ingestion include salivation, sweating, and difficulty breathing, but the end result is seldom fatal.

Though toxic to livestock, ground ivy tea was an ancient medicinal brew for humans, and thought to be a natural cleanse for bowels and stomach, kidneys, and lungs.

So, if Uncle Charley is settling in for a prolonged visit to your garden, decide where you want him to stay and work hard to keep him there!

* Ohio Perennial & Biennial Weed Guide, The Ohio State University OARDC Extension

  About Toni Leland  
Toni LelandToni Leland has been writing for over 20 years. As a spokesman for the Ohio State University Master Gardener program, she has written a biweekly newspaper column and is the editor of the Muskingum County MG newsletter, Connections; she currently writes for GRIT, Over the Back Fence, and Country Living magazines. She has been a gardener all her life, working soil all over the world. In her day job, she scripts and produces educational DVDs about caring for Miniature Horses, writes and edits books about them, and has published five novels.

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