Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Weeds? Sez who?

So, what is a weed? It is an old conundrum and I have no intention of re-visiting the arguments. It can be anything from a tree to a tiny grass but if it is felt to be in the wrong place, and displays some sort of aggressive behaviour then for someone it is a weed.
Outside the public library in Daventry stands a little flower-bed. A volunteer cares for it and pays regular visits to remove litter, trim off dead material and do the occasional bit of replanting. About six months ago I spotted a single leaf of Winter Heliotrope, Petasites fragrans, there, 'hiding in plain sight' as they say. Its specific name is the clue as to why this plant, a native of North Africa's Mediterranean areas, should have been introduced. The pale lilac flowers are rather unimpressive but their vanilla odour is powerful, attracting bees and other insects.
Winter Heliotrope, Daventry Town Centre.
21 February, 2017
If I see the gardener I intend to warn her of the dangers being placed on this little plot for, unless the Winter Heliotrope is quickly removed, it will take over. Indeed it may already be too late as the rhizomes are brittle and detached fragments will quickly re-grow. Perhaps this is one North African migrant which should be expelled!
Tristagma uniflorum, formerly known as Ipheion uniflorum, is a pretty little thing, introduced from South America in 1832. This relative of the onion (some varieties have an alliaceous smell) has lilac flowers but I have not detected any fragrance there.
Tristagma uniflorum in our front garden, Stefen Hill, Daventry.
22 February, 2017
In their impressive book 'Alien Plants (Collins, 2016)', the authors, Clive Stace and Michael Crawley give the plant no mention but the 'Gateway' maps provided by the National Biological Network show dozens of  records from south-east England, suggesting that it has escaped from gardens quite widely. The problem is that it will pop up in rock gardens and so on and is very difficult to eradicate. In desperation I resorted to using weed killer but this proved only a temporary setback and swathes of it now infest our front garden. How it got here in the first place is a mystery as I certainly didn't plant it.
Swathes of the Tristagma now invade the gravel in our front garden.
22 February, 2017
A similar problem affected our former garden at Byfield but there the culprit was the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis. It produced copious quantities of seed (despite 'rarely seeding' according to the 'New Flora of the British Isles', Clive Stace, 1992) and popped up everywhere so that in despair I completed dug out and restructured part of a rock garden, only for it to reappear the next year!
Snowdrops at the edge of The Green, Byfield. 22 February, 2017
This common plant has always been regarded, at least until recently as 'probably native' but is almost certainly an introduction, perhaps brought here by monks as far back as the Dark Ages and it is not too fanciful to imagine people deliberately planting it in suitable woodland areas.
One 'weed' I will not have impugned is our Common Daisy, Bellis perennis. I sympathise with green-keepers endeavouring to produce a baize-like surface for bowls players but for me a lawn without daisies would be like spotted dick without the - er - spotted dicks.
Daisies flowering at Stefen Hill, Daventry. 22 February, 2017

At the roadside hard by our house it has flowered sporadically throughout the winter; long may John Clare's 'starry daisies deck the green' .

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