In between all the periods of rain we've been getting lately, I've been doing some weeding. I find it to be therapeutic, though I also fret about pulling out a plant I should be encouraging to take root.
I've mostly been uprooting great amounts of chickweed, dandelions, and wild garlic, and it was the latter weed that made me eager to get out there and start yanking. I didn't have a big gripe with wild garlic; I just didn't want it to be so prevalent in our lawn. But as I've read more about it, I think I'm doing the Lord's work—Lord Dandycott's!1 Wild garlic—aka crow garlic, field garlic, or wild onion, though that last name is more commonly used for another allium—is an invasive weed that reproduces by seed, bulb, and aerial bulblets (aka bulbils) and can contaminate wheat and make a cow's milk taste like garlic.
When I first pointed out all of the wild garlic in the yard, Tony, ever the economist, asked whether we could eat it. I told him it's perfectly safe. You can use the bulbs like garlic and the tender, young leaves like chives. I subsequently learned there's a somewhat-similar-looking weed called star of Bethlehem that has a poisonous bulb. But no parts of that plant have a garlicky aroma, so it's pretty straightforward to distinguish between the two.
I set aside some of the largest wild garlic bulbs I found while weeding Tuesday morning ...
and used them in a Caesar-ish Salad at dinner:
I'd told Tony I wanted to make that a vegetarian day and have pasta and salad for our early supper, before I went to my 7:30 yoga class in Lambertville. I'd thought about using the garlic in my pasta sauce, but I decided we'd get a better sense of how much we liked it if we had it in the salad.
Tony loved the salad and enjoyed the WG's role in it. As I was making my dressing—which, as usual, also contained grapeseed oil, red wine vinegar, and rather strongly flavored Penzeys California Seasoned Pepper—I popped a small, offshoot bulb into my mouth. Some websites say wild garlic is stronger than cultivated garlic, and some say it's weaker. I think it's like blunt-force garlic, without subtlety, but it's definitely worth a try because its flavor is pleasing enough—and it's free.
I used six or seven of the peeled bulbs in my dressing for two salads. I squeezed them in a garlic press, which obliterated them and so didn't yield a lot of garlic paste. Next time, because their texture is much more like spring onion than cured garlic, I'd chop them with a knife and use three, maybe four at the most.
The next weed we consume will no doubt be chickweed, which is said to be incredibly healthful. And we've got a ton of it in our yard. We learned that the seller of our home wasn't around much last summer because he was living and working in another part of the state. Weeds took over the lawn, which we don't really mind because we have no great desire to have a "perfect" lawn and now we know for sure that it wasn't chemically treated.
Also on Tuesday morning, I was super excited to find this beautiful native plant in the terraced area of our front yard, the not very common jack-in-the-pulpit (which has an interesting sex life):
I was pretty sure I remembered learning about this plant on a school field trip from my second and sixth grade teacher Mrs. Griner,2 who I'm friends with on Facebook. I posted the photo and asked her whether I was remembering correctly.
"You're right," she commented, "but they are rarer today than when we saw them on our field trip in 1981. You have an ideal location there for more 'jacks.' Later in the season, you will see red berries develop where the 'jack' is in the pulpit now—not difficult to grow—just lightly press the berries into the ground and cover lightly with soil. Beautiful photo."
Not only did she recall showing us the plant, but she was able to give me the year when it happened. Impressive!
If I can get to the weeds not long after it rains, I can pull most of them completely out by hand. For trickier, longer-rooted ones, I use an asparagus knife. Do you know how hard it is to find one of those suckers in my part of Hunterdon County? Let me tell you, it's mighty hard. None of my local hardware stores or big-box home improvement stores had one. The third nursery and garden supply store I checked had one, though I was initially told they didn't carry them.
Yesterday, I once again asked for help on Facebook in identifying plants in our yard. In an effort to generate excitement about my queries, I gave my request a cutesy name. "Who's ready for another rousing round of What's That Weed?" I asked.
Betsy identified this plant, which I said "looks like green shiso to me, but it doesn't have that smell," as snakeroot:
And she left me this Wikipedia link, which indicates that snakeroot is poisonous and its toxin can be passed along to humans who consume milk or meat from cows that eat the plant. And that Abraham Lincoln's mother may have died from this so-called milk sickness. How about that?! All of that shit's getting pulled up pronto.
I didn't see a lot of this one in the yard ...
... and it's pretty innocuous looking, but I'm mighty glad I asked about it because, as Betsy pointed out, it's a terribly invasive, edible plant called garlic mustard that can take over the understory of deciduous forests. Yikes! And after I saw photos of what this biennial looks like during its second year of life in the Wikipedia link Betsy provided—tall with white flowers—I realized we've got loads of the stuff. And it's all up and down our street, too. Yikes again!
Here's a photo I took of a mature garlic mustard next to a young one (with lots of dog hair on our kitchen floor):
The leaves higher up on the mature plant come to a point. They aren't rounded like the ones lower on the plant and on the younger specimen. So I would have had trouble figuring out they were the same thing if I hadn't read that Wikipedia article. So thanks, Betsy!
Mitchell was first to identify this nonweed as vinca:
Based on the link he posted, it's got to be vinca major, or greater periwinkle.3 Dad also said he thought it was vinca.
No one has yet been able to identify this admittedly pretty nondescript looking plant with hairs on its stem:
"Something (deer? groundhog?) apparently likes the taste of this plant because every one I saw had the top chewed off," I commented.
I didn't ask about this vine ...
... on Facebook because I was able to identify it via a Google search for "five-leaved vine." The Squirrel Nutwork told me it's Virginia creeper, not a mutant poison ivy. It's a local plant, so I'll let it keep going. And it will go and go and go.
I snapped this pic of a fallen tulip tree blossom on Tuesday, too:
It was a big day for nature photography around here. I haven't taken the time to count all of the tulip trees we have in our yard, but I'm sure there are at least a half-dozen.
I've got one final weed-related item: I've identified the cute little plant with the white flowers that no one could name the previous time I asked for help from my Facebook friends. It's hairy bittercress, which I discovered when I Googled "weed that shoots seeds" and realized the plant that was plinking me with its seeds whenever I touched it was that mystery plant.
The lower leaves of these plants in our yard have shriveled up since I took that photo linked above. Here are a couple specimens I just photographed:
And here's a Washington Post story with the science behind the plant's explosive method of seed dispersal.
1That's totally an inside joke between me and Tony. Lord Dandycott is a funny and fussy name he came up with based on a similar-sounding Pakistani hot pepper, a bag of which we have in our fridge.
2I mentioned Mrs. Griner, whose first name is Ruth, on the blog back in 2008 after encountering her at the Green Olive restaurant, the go-to breakfast place for us Hawleys when I'm in South Jersey. Even though I'm far too old to be referring to another adult by Mrs. and her last name, it's hard for me to stop, since I first got to know her when I was only 6 years old. (I turned 7 about a week after I started second grade.) My class was lucky to have Mrs. G. as a teacher twice. She was moved to the sixth grade at the Hopewell Township School when my class reached that level and went back to teaching second grade at the Hopewell Crest School the next year. HCS was then only for kindergarten through fourth grade, and HTS was for fifth through eighth. HTS was turned into senior housing several years ago and so now all grades are at an expanded HCS.
3That's not to be confused with Perry Winkle, the purely hypothetical drag name Tony gave me last month. While at the gym later that day, I came up with another cute drag name: Billie Jean Queen, or BJ for short. Ooh, that reminds me of one of my favorite Kate McKinnon impressions on Saturday Night Live. And speaking of drag, I'm totally on Team Bob, even though Tony hates his makeup.
UPDATE on May 15: I recalled working with some other volunteers to remove an invasive weed from Prospect Park and searched the blog to see whether it was maybe garlic mustard. It was. We also uprooted mugwort, which I haven't spotted in our yard.