Monday, June 27, 2011

A weed only by name: Part IV

Today is the final installment of the 'A weed only in name' series; thus far we have covered two weeds per installment and today's two will bring that total to eight 'weeds'.  If it is requested, there is room for a second edition of this series, just email or comment up here on the blog that you want to know more and it'll go on the schedule. The 'weeds' today are Phytolacca americana and Asclepias tuberosa  which are commonly called Pokeweed and Milkweed respectively.  But as always before we get into blowing away the label of weed here is a garden fact.

What do Squash, Melons, Zucchini, Cucumbers, Gourds and, Pumpkins have in common?
All of these plants belong to the Cucurbitaceae family and are thus related. The major differences beside the physical characteristics of the fruiting bodies and flowers are the presence of tendrils on the vines. Also there is the overall habit of the plants in consideration.

Phytolacca americana - Pokeweed
This is an immature pokeweed that surfaced in a top soil pile in the rear of the test gardens, to date there is no record of pokeweeds growing in this garden's location.

Poke weed is a commonly misunderstood perennial,  It's tall and somewhat awkward form seems entirely out of place in any given garden yet it has unique value to the forage gardener's menu.  Poke weed is a taprooted perennial, which means it is uniquely suited to dealing with poor or packed soils. Older specimens of pokeweed can have taproots upwards of 18" in diameter making the resulting plant quite robust to the poiont of being a weird yet useful shrub. The edible part  is the new shoots that arise from the taproot generally they will need to be cooked in three or four changes of water to remove any phytolaccin.  Phytolaccin is a cathartic and slightly narcotic substance that is used for treating rheumatism.
The berries which are a dark magenta-purple in color can be used to make a pink or reddish dye.  One can imagine the effect of a stand of pokeweed with voodoo lily, jack in the pulpit or even some may apples can make for one heck of a woodland display. For note this poke weed emerged absolutely as a volunteer. I plant to let it continue doing so for as long as it does not become a issue. The fact it emerged proves the longevity or fertility of pokeweed seeds and it's ease of growth if seed were to be collected from ripe berries.

Asclepias tuberosa/tuberosum - Milkweed (Plerurisy Root)
These milkweeds were first sown in 2009, and were thought to have failed last summer, yet they returned again despite excavations.

There is little else in the summer then a stand of Milkweed covered in pollinators each small flower in a bright shade of orange. Single handedly this perennial which reseeds readily can make the heat and humidity of the summer worth it.  For those readers not familiar with milkweed, this  is a herb with a few differing names, in some texts it's called Pleurisy Root, and yet in others it's called Butterflyweed. The former name comes form it's use in the treatment of respiratory ailments where as the latter derives from  the simple fact it's an ample source of pollen and nectar for many pollinators such as butterflies and bees. What is not known is that the roots when dried  can be used as an anti-inflammatory. Perhaps paired with Swamp sunflower Helianthus   the two could make for one heck of a full sun color display. I might add that the milkweed in the picture is from my own test gardens. As a cultural care note, I started this milkweed in 2009 from seed collected in 2007. It has yet to fail to emerge yearly though this year it has remained longer. I hesitate to transplant it due to this plant's noted taproot which is sensitive to disturbance.

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