Monday, October 28, 2013

A Great "New" Reference on Weeds

Two days ago, the Wichita Chapter of the Kansas Native Plant Society had a native plant seed exchange and sharing time, to which I was invited.  (Well, truthfully, the entire public was invited.  I was also asked to share a little information about Sedgwick County Extension, and I brought along some native plant seeds and seedlings to share.)  It was an enjoyable gathering, as such gatherings of like-minded people often are, and it was a good place to meet people with similar interests, to learn about programs and plants that I wasn't familiar with, and - hopefully - to find new and useful reference material.

I was indeed lucky this time.  Krista Dahlinger, as the official representative of KNPS, was selling some books for the organization, including Weeds of the Great Plains, published by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, most recently in 2003.

Somehow I've managed to miss this book before, and I wish I hadn't.  It has full page, color photos of each main "weed" that it covers, plus a couple smaller photos, also in color, highlighting important characteristics.  There is a line drawing for each plant as well, giving a sense of its structure.  For me, as a homeowner/wildlife enthusiast/gardener/native plant geek/prairie restorer/Master Gardener, the most important parts were in the brief, well organized descriptions. 

These descriptions included the origin of each species (whether native or not; if not, where it was from), and the standard descriptions of growth form, height, flowers, leaves, stems and so forth.  Then there was a section "Where Found" which included habitat information, as well as the states and general areas the plant was found within the Great Plains region.

The next section, "Uses and Values", was a little heavy on the value for livestock (not too surprising, in a book put out by an ag department) but it also included wildlife value and occasional decorative or landscape uses. 

A separate section on the potential for livestock poisoning was occasionally also included, which got EXTREMELY detailed.  Sometimes this section seemed to get overly cautious, to the point where I began to understand a stockman's tendency to just say, "The heck with it!", and spray broad-leaved herbicides everywhere.  Note:  I hate that practice and feel it is entirely inappropriate...but reading this book and its huge number of cautions, I begin to understand the attitude a little more.

One of the last several sections about each plant was often "Historical", giving uses by Native Americans and early settlers for native plants and even, for non-native plants, sometimes going back to Europe or Asia to tell about the plant's usage in its country of origin.

"Losses" was another section occasionally included.  This section highlighted financial losses that could occur (and why they would occur) if the plant under discussion was a major or regular component of the vegetation.  For example, several of the plants that produced burs reduced the value of wool being sold.

The last concluding section was often "Similar Species", which highlighted other species related to the primary one being discussed.  Although these descriptions were brief, they were accurate and accessible; more than once I was able to identify a plant through its mention in this section, even though I was just leafing through the book.

Some tips I picked up?  Well, I've been trying to identify this little vine that I've seen growing for some years in the draw - I learned that it is Climbing False Buckwheat (Polygonum scandens), a native, vining perennial.  It's considered quite beneficial for wildlife, although it can get aggressive and smother its neighbors when conditions are too perfect for it.  (Note:  I've had absolutely NO problem with climbing false buckwheat and, in fact, only notice it occasionally in the fall.)

I learned that the term "sumac" is derived from "shoe-make", referring to the tannic acid that this plant contains, which was used in tanning leather.  It's always bugged me when people refer to this group of plants as "shu-mac" - now I realize that they are just using a form of the name that is closer to its historical roots!

And the last bit I'll share (although far from the last tidbit I learned) is that marijuana is NOT native to North America.  I thought it was a native, since Jefferson grew it as a crop and since it grows wild in many places.  Marijuana is actually a native to Asia and it was first introduced onto the Great Plains in the 1880s.  It was grown legally as recently as World War II, for hemp production, and it has escaped - naturalized - into the wild.  (No, I don't have any photos of marijuana!)

It can be hard to find good, reliable information on "weeds", and I feel like I've found it in this book.  If you live in the Great Plains, I highly recommend Weeds of the Great Plains as a great reference about a maligned group of plants.


Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

That does indeed sound like a great resource. I'll have to check in to it sometime. All plants have a purpose somewhere. Seems a few get a little carried away!

Karin / Southern Meadows said...

What a great resource! I wish I could find such a book that covers the southeast. I learned the importance of identifying "weeds" this summer when I discovered several native volunteers growing in our garden.

Rose said...

This sounds like a great resource! I finally found a similar book for the Midwest, but discovered it's pretty expensive so I may just check it out from the library next spring. Especially helpful, I think, are the sources that include photos and descriptions of weed seedlings. Once a weed has grown tall, I can usually recognize it as a weed, even if I don't know its actual name. But I'd like to get them before they get that big!

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

How wonderful to find another great reference!