A walk on the wild side



Why is a weed when you see it in an empty lot or in a ditch and a protected specimen when you see it in a nature preserve? I love parks and preserves because they celebrate plants that some gardeners (and all neighborhood associations) scorn. Yesterday, we visited the Reinsten Woods Nature Preserve, an amazing spot of wilderness in the middle of a Buffalo suburb. It has a large pond (the pink lotus display just drawing to a close) oft visited by herons and other waterfowl, enough trees to justify its name, and a ton of wildflowers. It also has a new visitors’ center that is not only green/LEED-certified but attractive in a rustic, FLWright-inspired kind of way. Just the place where you’d like your camera battery to give out. Images will have to wait for another time.

The visit inspired me to visit my private Allentown nature preserve (a protected alleyway habitat) and choose a few rare blooms for the arrangement you see above. Here is mature pokeweed (phytolacca americana), snakeroot (eupatorium ragosum) and daisy fleabane (erigeron annuus). These and many other wildflowers and wild grasses can be seen in profusion in every uncultivated spot in WNY; sometimes I can barely keep my eyes on the road as I admire these plants during my morning commute.

Fall is the time for wildflowers here; our springs are too brief and too prone to the remnants of violent weather. Who needs mums? Bring on the weeds!

My knowledge of wildflowers is minimal, but I’ve been reading about them, and the Audubon eastern region field guide is useful. I’d also thank a local expert, nature writer Gerry Rising, whose columns for the Buffalo News are archived here.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Weed? I actually try to grow eupatorium rugosum (which, I believe, has been renamed ageratina altissima or some such thing). Mind you, it’s not very hard to do so and it has moved around a good bit from its initial location in my borders. I’ve really been enjoying it this fall in particular. It’s impervious to the drought the the flashes of it throughout the beds are striking. The floral equivalent of those illuminating bright fall moonbeams.

  2. My daughter goes out into our meadow regularly in August and September and cuts the most spectacular weed bouquets. All the flowers have a misty quality that is very romantic in a vase.

  3. Yes, Mary, I think it’s the wildflower version of Joe Pye weed, but to me it looks very different than what they sell in the nursery.

    It was EVERYWHERE in this preserve and I’ve been cautioned against it when people have seen it coming up in my (sort of) cultivated areas.

  4. There are actually about five different plants that variously get called Joe Pye weed, but snakeroot is a different plant altogether. There is a cultivar, Eupatorium rugosum “Chocolate,” that has purple foliage if it gets enough sun and is sold in nurseries. I just bought and planted one, and it’s starting to bloom — really lovely pure white flowers.

    I think “weed” is in the eye of the beholder, but if more of us were able to arrange a vase the way eliz did for the photo above, I bet “wildflower” would be the name used more often.

  5. My E. rugosum ‘Chocolate’ are gorgeous, but when they go to seed they seem to revert to the green leaved type. They do seed a lot; so beware – but easy to pull out.

    Pokeweed is really a gorgeous plant. It’s just that one year you have 3, the next year 3000. Too bad.

  6. This leads me to believe that I saw a wilder version of eupatorium ragosum (as it is id’d in audubon), cause this stuff is rampant.

  7. Having an entire mountainside covered in Ageratina altissima aka Eupatorium rugosum and wild Joe Pye, Eupatorium fistulosum they are very different plants. There is even a ‘Chocolate’ strain of the Ageratina in the wild population. I can’t walk through the garden now without getting covered in the fuzzy seeds of the Ageratina. Yes this wildflower is vigorous.

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