Spring and fall seem to be the best time for these mostly native plants; I guess they stand out at a time when color is less notable elsewhere. Currently, I am reading Weeds in my Garden: Observations on Some Misunderstood Plants, by Charles Heiser, and am planning to check out some other weed titles, including, perhaps, All About Weeds, which I quoted in Sunday’s post, but have only skimmed.
I endorse many of the plants featured in Heiser’s gently entertaining book, especially phytolacca americana, or pokeweed. I believe it can be found just about everywhere in North America. Many of you are familiar, so bear with me when I note that it can be 10 feet tall, with broad green leaves, stems maturing to purple and wonderful racemes of berries that also mature from green to purple. (It is not yet ready for its close-up here; the image is from elsewhere.) The contrast of the green and purple makes this a less ordinary plant for arrangements (I find it more effective in the vase stripped of most of the leaves). My alley-side pokeweed migrated from the neighbor’s weed patch. Had I a larger growing space, I would nurture of small stand of it somewhere in my main garden area. It is a very handsome plant and looks wonderful with goldenrod.
As for the whole poison thing (here we go again), Heiser has an anecdote:
…when taking a group of students on a field trip and coming across a pokeweed, I told them that they had probably heard this plant was poisonous as I boldly put a berry in my mouth. I was swallowing it when I realized that the berries I had eaten [before] at the Deans’ were cooked whereas this one was raw! I died, of course.
The root is poisonous, according to most authorities, but those of you familiar with the song “Poke Salad Annie” (Tony Joe White, 1969, later covered by Elvis Presley) know that the young shoots have long been a popular wild green (if cooked). In case you’re not familiar, here’s an excerpt:
Everyday ‘fore supper time
She’d go down by the truck patch
And pick her a mess o’ poke salad
And carry it home in a tote sack
Poke salad Annie, ‘gators got you granny
Everybody said it was a shame
‘Cause her mama was aworkin’ on the chain-gang
listen here(This version is by Captain Luke and Cool John Ferguson, not Tony Joe White.)
Sadly, not all the weeds I like have had songs written about them. The others I enjoy at this time of year are the daisy fleabane (I believe that is what I am seeing) and giant reed, seen in company with goldenrod along most of the highways around here. These are tall plants, but I think a good weed in an urban area needs to be tall in order to assert itself. I make no assertions about the good or bad properties of these plants in their WNY habitat; I simply find them elegant, graceful additions to the autumn landscape. When they are gone, winter will be hot on their heels.
Oh, what the heck: here is the video Craig found on You Tube of Tony Joe White performing “Poke Salad Annie”. (My dad had the studio version as a 45 on his basement jukebox.) This live footage is AMAZING. Thank you, Craig!