Weeds or Wildflowers?

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

I'd like to share my knowledge of, fascination with, and devotion to the weeds in my garden.

I live in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. I first started learning about native plants in about 2005 when I volunteered to tend a garden developed on property purchased by the Piedmont Land Conservancy and then donated to the city. In the deed of transfer a conservation easement required that only native plants be installed on the land. I started with simple publications from the agriculture extension. I moved up to many books on the subject. Over time I encountered debates from purists and the not-so-purists about what should be considered a native plant. Regional or continental? Native woodland or hybrid/cultivar?

Ultimately living with wildflowers in this day and age requires adaptation. At the winter meeting of the Society of American Foresters last winter in Wytheville, VA, the theme was "Adapt, Migrate, or Die." Quite uplifting. Over time I have come to appreciate the various and sundry ways I can apply that statement to the environment, to native plant purists and not-so-purists, to wildlife, and to the weeds in my garden.

One woman's weed is another woman's wildflower. In January 2011 while walking my dogs, I came across a neighbor who had just finished weeding her front flower bed. I asked if I could take with me a large "old field aster." Last season it grew to enormous size and from late September into November the neighbors' honey bee colonies covered the abundant small white blooms.

I garden for wildlife. To that end I collect wildflowers that other people call weeds. So I start this thread about the weeds in my garden. Right now it feels like a diary entry, but over time I hope that DG wildflower/weed enthusiasts will join in with their thoughts and comments. :)


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Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Another view of the giant old field aster. It was so large it blocked the entrance to the garden, and I just let it be. It was magnificent, but this spring I pulled it out of that spot and moved it to the back of the garden to preserve the splendor while at the same time preserving access.

This message was edited Apr 5, 2013 1:04 PM

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Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Paul's honey bees. Paul is a neighbor two streets over - a novice bee keeper. He would come and marvel at the aster. Naturally he has a place in my heart as no one has ever come thru my garden repeating the words, "Wow" or "Incredible." :)

I have dug several asters for Paul's small garden so the bees won't have so far to travel.

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Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Hi, I have enjoyed some sort of wild aster in my supposedly cultivated bed as well.
Another wild gift to me was Eupatorium ...um.. Late blooming? I got the ID with help in DG. It can self sow too much for some tastes, but it it fairly attractive of foliage, blooms late and has plenty of great sweet scent.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Sally - which Eupatorium(s) do you have? In the fall I enjoy Chocolate Eupatorium as well as the Blue Mistflower which is now Conoclineum colestineum. A friend sent me some West Texas Mistflower, which offends the regional native collection, but enhances the continental native collection. I made sure to plant them far apart, but the differences between the two are astounding - particularly the bloom season - where C. colestineum has a finite bloom period, the C. greggii bloomed till frost.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I have E. serotinum, Late Flowering Boneset. Funny you should ask:

greenthumb has brought me another Boneset, that we did compare and contrast with in the fall. I have to plant them out and see how they look growing up. Pretty sure the label is there greenthumb, I just forgot what it is.

Coon Rapids, MN(Zone 4b)

Thank you, Amanda! I garden for wildlife,too, which means that sometimes I let the wildlife do the gardening for me. I love your giant aster.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Hey! You're famous!!! And THAT is one gorgeous and desireable weed. I enjoyed your article about sleuthing to the plant ID.

Do you have any other late blooming natives that attract pollinators like E. serotinum or my aster above? I'm always looking to add.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Hello Blue! Crosspost - imagine. :D

I admit, that I stopped weeding entirely last summer. It turned out that even the weediest of the weeds were serving a beneficial purpose - they were helping to maintain soil moisture! I was shocked and appalled as I pulled out weeds to free a Bradbury Monarda sent to me in trade when the next day it immediately lost its verve. I saw this happen around the yard, and I let it go.

I spent a lot of time transplanting clover INTO my flower beds to help with this problem. :)

Lucketts, VA(Zone 7a)

Sally - I believe the plant I gave you last year was Eupatorium rugosum.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Does anyone else grow native grasses?

All I've got (besides the real weeds)(should I use a capital "W" when referring to REAL weeds?) is the Chasmanthemum latifolium/River Oats, Northern Sea Oats. I have been coveting certain grasses for ages, but I'm really not willing to purchase a gallon pot for $25, ya know?

A fellow DG member had several listed on her tradelist. After we initiated a trade and before I could write them down, she disabled them from her list. Ha Ha. Well the trade went thru, and I did receive a number of grasses I have been longing for. I just sorted thru them and took out the following because they are not native to NC, but they do occur in several of the SOUTHEAST states:

Big Sacaton
'Oklahoma' Indian Grass
Field Marigold (Texas Dogweed)
Indian Ricegrass
Blue Gama Grass
Sand Lovegrass
Bladderpod (not sure which)
Bitterweed (assume this is Helenium)

Some of these I really wanted, but since they're not natives to NC I won't plant them (I already have Helenium in my weed beds).

If anyone is interested I'm willing to share these packets.

The ones I planted in pots just now are:

Side Oats Gama
Little Bluestem
Purple Threeawn
Bushy Bluestem

I use the USDA plant database to check distribution.

I also started some Ipomopsis rubra 'Scarlet Surprise' which was sent in trade.

I'm guilty also of starting some Yellow Bells, Tecomah stans. I don't think this one is naturally occurring in NC, but I'm irresistibly drawn to the giant yellow flowers. Please forgive me!!!


(Crystal) Waverly, AL

Amanda, glad you are doing this.
I have a couple asters. They are pretty hard for me to get the names of. One is a white that will bloom a little later, but not fall. . It would take over, jumping here and there, but I dig it out when it's too much. I also have a quarter sized blue one that i got from my mother, who dug it up on the roadside somewhere here, I believe. Or so the story goes. I wonder if it is the one called New England aster. Need to check.
I also have a woodland wildflower garden with Trillium (several species), spring beauty, Atamasco lilies,Rue anemone, some jacks, Hepatica, and maybe some more stuff. I have a pot load of dog tooth violets that never bloom, except maybe a flower or two every year or two. the patch just seems to get bigger though.
Had some wild oats once, but they tried to take over and I spent several years pulling them out. Still get a few though.

Lucketts, VA(Zone 7a)

goldhillal - don't let yourself get too frustrated trying to ID your aster. There are dozens of species in the Eastern US, and some like the New England Aster have been bred into numerous cultivars. Even variations in growing conditions can result in plants of the same species appearing different in various locations in the same yard.

(Crystal) Waverly, AL

Ok. Good enough. I have a quarter sized blue aster w/yellow center. Fall blooming. Hardy as can be . Spreads, but controllable. In fact I have been thinking of putting some along the road near my house. I think it can look after itself.

Clarksville, TN(Zone 6b)

Some of my faves in the yard.

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Clarksville, TN(Zone 6b)

And another fave, the orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). This one frequently warns of the possibility of poison ivy nearby.

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(Crystal) Waverly, AL

Is that annual fleabane?
What is the middle pic in the first post, Cville?

Clarksville, TN(Zone 6b)

Yes, sorry for not IDing. Two species of fleabane (1st, 4th, 5th pics). The middle pic is what we call graveyard moss or milkwort - Cypress Spurge Euphorbia (Euphorbia cyparissias).

"But cockle, spurge, according to their law
Might propagate their kind, with none to awe."
-Robert Browning


Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Ha ha! Love the poetry inspired by weeds. :)

I was amazed to learn there were native euphorbias. I LOVE the fleabanes. So light and airy. And Thumb is right - trying to ID these white asters is maddening. Carole - does the graveyard moss have a flower? I became attached to the 'Diamond Frost' euphoriba a couple of years ago, but neglected to bring them in to overwinter last season.

While we're on the subject I think I will continue on a course of asters and/or impossible to classify white wildflowers. While I was working at the New England Wildflower Society, I collected many seeds (!!!) and brought them down here to NC. Their botanic garden, "Garden in the Woods" grows continental natives and has various microclimates/habitats developed more as an educational setting than a hard core regional collection. I brought seeds with me of a low growing VERY early blooming white aster. That first year when I started growing things from seed I collected there was kind of crazy. This white flower begins to bloom in May or June. Flowers persist but are not abundant. It does not spread. It is very low to the ground and the foliage is elongated and looks like little green fingers.

Any thoughts on this white flower?

(for all I know could be a symphotrichium by now!).

Oooops! Completely forgot after looking back at the image and my notes - it's a damned SOLIDAGO!!!

Was historically classified as an aster (Aster ptarmicoides) or Oligoneuron album because of the white rays and showy flowers. It is now considered to be a native prairie wildflower and the name "Solidago asteroides" has been proposed. The scientific name "Solidago" comes the Latin word "solido", meaning "to make whole or heal", presumably a reference to inferred medicinal qualities of the goldenrod plants.

This information comes from a random website. Scroll to the bottom of the page to find this WHITE FLOWERING SOLIDAGO!!


See? I could learn a thing or two (or my tired old brain could remember forgotten facts) on a thread like this.

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Lucketts, VA(Zone 7a)

Amanda - Here is a photo of Euphorbia cyparissias - graveyard moss - in flower. Caution!! Best kept in a pot rather than in-ground!

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Houston Heights, TX(Zone 9a)

Amanda, I have about 60% Texas natives in my garden. Due to some very bad coincidences when I retired and moved back to my home in Houston, I had no money to start my de-lawning project so I landscaped with a few passalong plants and by moving attractive weeds already growing into my beds. Im a live-and-let-live kind of gardner and I try to plant host and nectar plants for butterflies so my garden looks much like a jungle. (See some photos on the Garden Show case feaure) I grow fleabane, Mexican Petunia, wild strawberry, plantain, Texas 4 native asters, zexmenia, poppy mallow, Texas Star Hibiscus, 4 native sages, the Tecoma which is native here, Flame acanthus, frostweed, asclepias, spicebush, Queens Wreath, Texas Gold Columbine (Hinckleyana) coneflower, Rudbeckia, native passiflora, Tuberose, Cowpen Daisy, Ipomoea hederifolia a native lantana and some native irises,goldenrod and probably some Ive forgotten. I grow purple fountain grass but Im not sure its a native and I also grow the one pictured below which I recently identified and will have to post name after I look it up again. I use native dichondra between my patio stones and horse herb for ground cover near my patio. Amanda, I sent you a D mail about the Euphorbia Diamond Dust.

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Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Steady - aren't we signed up for a trade? did you want the oakleaf hydrangea cuttings? The buds just broke yesterday. Ha ha ha...

You should post pictures of your jungle here! So many folks send me natives because that's what I want, but some things that are considered invasive in other parts of the country are probably best not sown in NC. For instance in MA, purple loosestrife is a noxious weed, and down here it is a beautiful plant folks pay money for. When I send our trade I will also send seed for TX natives that would do better in your yard than mine.

Carole - that euphorbia is gorgeous. I was just admiring the stachys you sent a year or two ago and always smile at you.

I just spend a couple of hours pulling weeds/runner grass that is still semi-dormant. If I can get some of those buggers out now, I might feel okay about direct sowing some seed there.

We have a rest area in NC that was built on highway 421 at Wilkesboro towards Boone. The rest area is supposed to be completely "sustainable" and was built with composite materials, some of the trees that were removed were used on the property to build things, AND they've seeded the entire construction area with native shrubs and forbs. I have a friend that I visit with a couple of times a year who drives down from the mountains and we meet in Wboro at that rest area. I always pull some weeds when I'm there to bring home with me. So many are familiar, while so many are not. When they start to bloom this year I will post pics of foliage and flowers so you can help me to ID. I did get a little rush this year to see leaves pushing up from a tall plant with yellow flowers and hairy/fuzzy leaves that I brought home last fall. I always wonder if I will get in trouble from pulling weeds at that rest area. H ah aha.




This message was edited Apr 6, 2013 2:53 PM

Clarksville, TN(Zone 6b)

Nice. So true about the varying degrees of invasiveness. That purple loosestrife can be a real terror in places. It's considered invasive here in TN. So pretty and yet so lethal. Bachelor's Button is another invasive here. So is Fuller's Teasel. I love both of those, especially the latter. :(

A couple of my other Euphorbias. Cushion spurge (E. polychroma) and E. characias 'Tasmanian Tiger' (one of my faves) growing together.

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Clarksville, TN(Zone 6b)

Forget the shot of "mama" stachys. Glad yours is doing well, Amanda. Creeping phlox in this shot as well.

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Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Holy crow. They're gorgeous. The variegated plant looks like 'Snow on the Mountain' for which I have seeds. Did you get some of those seeds? I put them in Susie's round robin last year.

Clarksville, TN(Zone 6b)

Thank you. Yes, I do have Snow on the Mountain seeds. A DG friend in Murfreesboro gave me the seeds when we had a "wee mini-RU" with three of us here the latter part of 2011. They were to be planted last year, but as you know, I missed most of that gardening season. :( I always laugh when I look at the amount of just the plants we had for three people. But I digress ... sorry.

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(Carey) Austin, TX(Zone 8b)

Amanda, I should have sent you some blackfoot daisy seeds as well. Which ones did you decide to keep and which won't work? My aunt bought a four-nerve daisy plant a couple of years ago for her husband (and AVID gardener - he's amazing) and that little plant is one of the first out of the ground and one of the last to die off. I'm pretty sure I sent you some but if not, let me know - they own my yard! :)

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Hi Carey! I am still planting seeds from you that I didn't get to start last season, and I wintered a few of the plants over in the bsmnt, so I'll let you know. :)

I am mesmerized at how things are just beginning to POP and I walk around staring at things I don't remember from last season. Did I plant this here? Is it a volunteer? What is it?

Today I noticed Liatris spicata pushing up green, as well as Cimifuga racemosa. Those have been in the yard for a few years, so I know to look for them. Something I've been meaning to do, while we're talking about asters, is to move this giant aster that I bought as a tiny plant at a Master Gardener spring sale. Every year I say I'm going to move it, but by April it's already "too big" to move.

I've had N.E. aster before, I'm not sure that it was correctly labeled as such at the MG sale. It looks more like something else to me, the flowers are too blue. I remember one I had at the condo and it was just as large, but the flowers were purple.

Take a look - need your opinion.


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(Carey) Austin, TX(Zone 8b)

Gosh Amanda, that Aster sure is beautiful. It looks a lot like one of our natives, but I'm not sure the shape is quite right. This is the one I mean - http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=MATA2

You might want to look more in-depth on the Wildflower website - it has plants from all over and maybe you can spot the Aster you have there -although it looks similar to the ones I remember seeing in the woods at Cumberland Falls in Kentucky. Someday you should visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Gardens. They are fabulous. :)

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Could it be the smooth aster? Symphyotrichum laeve/Aster laevis


I think I searched once before and this is what I came up with.


Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

One of the beneficiaries of my wildflower garden. Black Swallowtail just emerged this morning.

Or, I should say that I am the beneficiary and this is one of the many benefits. :)

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(Linda Kay) Del Rio, TX(Zone 9a)

He is beautiful!

Clarksville, TN(Zone 6b)

I think the S. laevis looks like a good bet. I have Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'Raydon's Favorite'. Looks very similar.

Beautiful Black Swallowtail, Amanda! ♥

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Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Thank you ladies - I was very pleased to see him off.

Carole - the S. oblongifolium looks similar - I do love the low mounding habit. This plant tops out at about 6' with all kinds of crazy staking. The year I took that photo above I just let it sprawl. That is the first bed I made when we moved to this house, and I like to fill it with my butterfly herbs/host plants. It just takes up more than its share of space. :)

I have so much going on in the yard today including a new rig or two to take advantage of some space that could be used for growing things if it weren't so poorly planned. You know homes (like mine) where there is a concrete staircase down into a basement/cellar? There's a 5' wooden fence around the perimeter with a gate on it - for safety I presume. I've been contemplating on taking it down and laying the wood across the gaping hole and just putting my container garden on top, but I have stretched wire with a large rectangular gauge across the top and will try to grow my cucumbers and peas across. Nothing native about it, but fun.

This morning I saw a rabbit eating the new canes and foliage sent up by my roses. And I enjoyed it. ha hahah aha. Somebody should slap me.

Working on school stuff today - besides the butterfly that's all the excitement(a VERY exciting day). Will update with more photos as their heads pop up thru the soil.

Any natives in your garden jumping up and down right now?

Blue Ridge Mtns, VA(Zone 7a)

Mine that looks similar is a no name that came as a rooted twig in a trade a couple of years ago and has grown into a very large bush. Pic is the end of October last year.

Swallowtails are here too but I didn't raise them.

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(Carey) Austin, TX(Zone 8b)

I threw out a whole bunch of wildflower seed in the fall but I think most of it got washed/blown away as I can't say I've seen anything new. I *am* happy to report that a bunch of the native monarda (M. citriodora) is coming up this spring since I found a grove of it in the greenbelt a couple of years ago and have been pulling out the dried stalks to sprinkle the seed around. :)

Clarksville, TN(Zone 6b)

Good idea for the stairwell. I am running out of fence and trellises for vines and climbers and I have some new ones I want to try this year. lol. Don't we always?

It rained all day yesterday. We had over 3 inches ... and the leaves just exploded overnight in the woods behind us. Lovely fresh spring green everywhere. Things are getting ready to bloom. Just the daffs and some euphorbia so far.

I saw my first bf a few days ago (not a swallowtail), still waiting for the first hummer. My pet carpenter bees are visiting me now though.

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(Linda Kay) Del Rio, TX(Zone 9a)

Does anyone have any Crossvine plants or seeds to share? It is a real pretty vine.

Clarksville, TN(Zone 6b)

I think I may have some Tangerine Crossvine seeds left if you are interested in those. I'll check.

(Linda Kay) Del Rio, TX(Zone 9a)

That would be awesome, thanks so much!

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