A Weed By Any Other Name . . .


Weed all about it! Florida Pusley; Richardia scabra.  The multitude of small flowers close up at night and then reopen with the sun.

Weed all about it! Florida Pusley; Richardia scabra.
The multitude of small flowers close up at night and then reopen with the sun.

When it comes to my lawn, I’m pretty basic, following one important rule.  Be green.  I’m not too fussy about what’s actually growing — but as long as it’s green, it has a place in the lawn.

When I see that in writing, it sounds as if I’m a bit of a colorist, embracing one color over all others.  In actuality, though, the green weeds are welcome to bloom in any color they like.  I just find that my color requirement for admittance into the lawn is one way to keep me from having to resort to herbicides and liquid fertilizers.  I have no intention of having my little piece of suburbia become one of the stops on a national golf tournament.

That’s my philosophy on Long Island.

Creeping dayflower; Commelina diffusa.

Creeping Dayflower; Commelina diffusa — I think.

Here in Florida, I’d like to still practice my basic cardinal rule of lawncare, but this lawn is a whole new jungle.  Literally and figuratively.  On the one hand, I’m sure I should be thankful that such an astounding variety of weeds have found my soil to be an inviting place.  On the other hand, some of the woody-stemmed varieties have crossed over from weed to small shrub.

For decades, a local Florida lawn service has done the mowing — no fertilizing, no herbiciding — while Joe and I lived in New York.  It’s been some time since its last cut, and for the first time, I’m able to see what’s growing.  Now I’m on a mission to know what’s growing.

Thanks to Mary C of Fairchild Tropical Gardens, I’vee learned that this plant
is not Purple Deadnettle; Lamium purpureum.
Rather, it is Blechum Brownei, also known as Green Shrimp Plant.

The primary greenery is grass, St. Augustine grass to be exact.  It’s a tough as nails grass, definitely not the green that’s easy on the feet (albeit softer than those woody-stemmed weeds).  For new lawns, it’s rarely sown as seed.  Instead, sheets of sod are rolled out, or plugs are placed in the soil, about 1’ to 2’ apart.

As you can see in the following photo, the grass actually spreads via a rope-like runner where roots can develop at nodes along the trail.  The grass eventually makes a thick carpet, with the ropes overlapping one another — and when kept healthy, St. Augustine grass can choke out many of the usual lawn weeds.

St. Augustine Grass

St. Augustine Grass.

And therein lies the problem.  My lawn is not healthy.

An acquaintance stopped by for a visit and we began talking about the lawn.  I explained to him that I wanted to avoid using herbicides.  He squatted down and said, “Here’s one problem.  Your lawn service cuts the lawn too short.  I see this all the time.  Once the lawn is cut too short, it’s an invitation for weeds to grow.”

Now, there’s a principle that even held true in my Long Island lawn, where I mowed the grass on the tall side.  This helped to prevent sunlight from reaching the weed seeds.  Perhaps, St. Augustine isn’t so different than the softer, gentler, green, green grass of home.

Chamberbitter; Phyllanthus urinaria -- I think.

Chamberbitter; Phyllanthus urinaria — I think.

After my acquaintance left, I began photographing the weeds in the lawn, some of which are posted here, as well as some photos of my new gardening buddies.  (Hint: Bigger than a ladybug — but that’s a post for another day.)

In the meantime, I have some work to do.

  • Identifying weeds.  I compared my weed photos with those on a website, Weedalert.com, an interesting site that allows users to identify weeds through a variety of methods, including region.  I think I labeled them correctly, but if any of you see a need for a correction, please let me know.
  • Creating a lawn plan.  As of this moment, I do not want a lot of grass, which the local garden club was happy to hear about.  Rather than green pastures, I’d like some green paths between beds and islands of plantings.
  • Talking with the landscaper about raising his blade until I’m able to mow my own.

After all, it’s a jungle out there.

I've saved the best weed name for last.  I believe this is Bidens alba -- better known as Hairy Beggarticks.

I’ve saved the best weed name for last: Bidens alba — better known as Hairy Beggarticks — I think.

29 thoughts on “A Weed By Any Other Name . . .

  1. Hi, Kevin – sounds like you’re starting to feel at home (garden) in FL! Yay! I lived in the Clearwater area for several years, and I must say St. Augustine isn’t my favorite, so paths and islands sound ideal! I love Weedalert.com, too – you might also check the weed library of the National Gardening Association http://www.garden.org//weedlibrary/ which can be helpful, also! Have fun planning your new gardens – judging from your gardens in Long Island, I’d say you’ll have a showplace before long!

  2. Ha, weeds can survive and thrive when little else can! I think sometimes during the heat of the summer, I had the lushest lawn on the block just because there was so much crabgrass growing in it 😉 I’m impressed that some people there are happy with your decision to have less grass. My experience with the South (North Carolina and Georgia, anyway) has been that they really REALLY love their grass!

    • Hi Indie. I’m okay with crabgrass — as long as it’s green. 🙂 When it comes to less lawn, many of the garden folk and literature I’ve seen all tout the same idea: less lawn and more beds — even if the beds are primarily mulch. I’m okay with that idea, mostly because it gives me more room to plant one of everything. 🙂

  3. Hairy Beggarticks! Really? What a great weed name. Best one around here goes something like Poor Man’s Purse (seedpods looking like turned out pockets).

    Isn’t it amazing what happens when you really start looking?

  4. Your Lamium purpureum is actually Blechum brownei…… One of the only larval plants for our rare and beautiful Malachite butterfly.

  5. Hairy Beggarticks, did you make that up? That is the best name I have heard in ages. Lovely selection you have there, sure you want to smother them with grass? Could you have a natural area? D.

    • Hi Doris. You touched on something that I question. Is it so bad to have weeds in a lawn. Could weeds serve a higher purpose than just grass? Even Hairy Beggarticks need some love. 🙂

      • Bidens alba are great nectar sources for many of our butterflies. I don’t like it in my yard because it is such a weedy looking plant. Perhaps if I were to trim it, shape it and give it some fertilizer…… 🙂

  6. Kev,Think back to Gyp. when I used to come home and pick Beggarticks out of her fur.
    Sometimes she would be covered with them if she ran through a patch, Don’t know if the northern varity is the same as the southern varity but not a pleasant experience for her or myself.

    • Hi Dad. I have a feeling after the flower passes and the tick part arrives, this plant may not seem to appealing. I’m keeping my eye on it to see how it develops. I do remember what it did to the dog. Definitely not pleasant!

  7. Florida lawns just aren’t the same as the grass up north. Sand spurs and fire ants really rule out the laying in the grass watching the clouds kind of fun… I have to agree with your cutting back on your turf area 🙂

  8. Of the grass varieties here, St. Augustine is is my favorite in that it is the least invasive and the easiest to remove when I indulge in yet another garden bed 😉 That green shrimp plant sure is cool looking!

    • Hi Plumdirt. The grass does seem pretty easy to work with — and it certainly spreads! But I do think I want to cut down on the turf area for lots of reasons — first and foremost, because I want less mowing and more planting. 🙂

  9. I think you’re going to enjoy learning all the new varieties of grass, plants and flowers–and shrubs and weeds! We have St. Augustine for both front and back lawns, and I’m fairly certain it must be the most common of Southern California grasses. It does occasionally get weeds, but when the lawn is thick it chokes them out. And it has to be easiest lawn in the world to keep green–if it’s well watered. So there’s our problem. How much water to literally waste on lawn? So many different aspects of gardening to consider! We don’t use any herbicides either, Kevin, and the weeds aren’t bad. Of course we go back to the water conversation. With all the water and humidity you enjoy–and at this point I’m even envious of humidity–maybe weeds are healthier! 🙂

    • Hi Debra. I spent the other day — yes, a day — wandering around a local nursery, taking notes and photos. It was a joyful day! As you said, so much to learn! I hope you are managing the deluge in southern California. Be well and be safe!

  10. Hairy beggarticks… not so far a stretch from wooly ragwort I guess.

    It’s been so long since I clicked on your website Kevin, I’m delighted to see you back in the blogosphere.

    My approach to lawn is, if it’s green, it stays and gets mowed. I figure I dug more than my fair share of dandelions back when I was age 12. BTW, they’re all back–with a vengeance–nearly 55 years later. Which begs the question: what’s the point?

    I don’t use chemicals. There’s a somewhat acrimonious post on a GardenWeb forum where us “tree hugger nut jobs” point out the downsides of using Scotts Step 1 program that are hotly contested. Sort of a waste of time to argue with those who worship the turf rather than the planet.

    • Hi Eileen. Well said!!! Like you, I like my lawns green — I don’t really care what in it, just be green. I also like to steer away from chemicals — which reminds me. I was recently watching a golf tournament on television when my brother-in-law mentioned that many golf courses that are to be televised use green spray paint to improve the on-camera look of the greens. I wonder how healthy that is for the environment? Be well!

  11. Pingback: All These Crabs Are Making Me Itch | Nitty Gritty Dirt Man

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