Purpose-Challenged Plants

by Daisy on 11/16/2009

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Calling them “weeds” seems dismissive. After all, they have their own identities and uses. I just have no idea what they are.

This seems like a waste so I’m on a mission to give a name to these flora in my yard. I have a feeling I’m going to be surprised at the diversity on my one acre.

Let’s identify them one at a time and see if they have any notable uses and benefits because it makes me feel ignorant to see these plants every day, to yank them out of my garden year after year, and not know what they are.

Anyone know what this is?

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Antony W. Serio November 16, 2009 at 8:13 am

I would guess that it was some kind of mint. What does the crushed leaf smell like?

Tomato Lady November 16, 2009 at 8:38 am

Antony W. Serio–Not much of a smell. Is “green” a smell?

mikapixie November 16, 2009 at 9:08 am

I thought it might be a cinquefoil or potentilia, but I am not so sure, the leaves look a little coarser. It is definitely not a relation to mint. If you type in weed identifier and your state though you should come up with a pretty good source of what people consider weeds in your region. Good luck, Ms Tomato Lady.
Cheers, Mika

Carla November 16, 2009 at 11:59 am

Well, I first thought of a mint, too, but I am certainly no expert. However, mints have square stems so do check that. And… just being in the mint family doesn’t necessarily make it smell like a mint, I think. Does it bloom?

Carla November 16, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Wait, let me get my wildflower book out…

From A Field Guide to Wildflowers, by Roger Tory Peterson. Mint Family: “Herbs with tiny glands that may give an aromatic odor. Most have square stems and opposite leaves. Flowers small, usually in spikes or in clusters in axils of leaves. The corolla is a tube usually with 2 flaring lips… the upper lip notched or 2-lobed, the lower 3-lobed. Although most mints have these characters, there are exceptions…” Mr. Peterson goes on to say the flower colors can be white, yellow, pink-red or violet-blue.

Mika sounds like she knows a ton more than I do but I thought you might need the mint definition at some point anyway.

Ivory Soap November 16, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Ooo, ooo, me, me, ME! Thank to Mika, I have a guess..


Carolina geranium is a winter annual weed that is often called “Cranes bill” because it produces fruits with a “beak” shape. Leaves have 5-7 deep lobes that are again bluntly lobed or toothed. White to lavender color flowers are apparent in late spring.

Kat November 16, 2009 at 12:50 pm

It’s definitely from the geranium family. I typed in Carolina, geranium, and weed into Google and found that same pic. I’m not sure it’s the exact species you have, but geraniums have a MAJOR range of traits even within one species.
Do your local extension agents have a plant clinic? Even in our tiny town, we have a master gardener program. You can take plants in for identification, pest management, disease identification, and what have you. They’re all volunteers, and truly wonderful people.

Kat November 16, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Oh, I meant to add that I bought a cranebill geranium at the nursery to put in my yard a few years ago. I’ve divided it several times to get more plants. Your “purpose-challenged” plant thrives in the gravel under our sumac trees. Yay for geraniums!

Cathy November 16, 2009 at 1:20 pm

Virginia Creeper?

Tomato Lady November 16, 2009 at 2:10 pm

OK, Ivory, you can put your hand down.
I do have the plant you linked in my yard, I think it’s even in the group I photographed for this series. However, the plant in today’s picture is sort of fuzzy and the leaves are much more tender than the cranesbill, like spinach. According to the description you quoted, it can have “toothed” leaves like the one in my picture, or bluntly lobed like the reference pic. So, it still could be a different kind of cranesbill?

Handful November 16, 2009 at 7:02 pm

I believe I have one like your pic TL. It seems like the link Ivory put up has a rounder, smoother edge. (No offense Ivory) 🙂

Mine has just really begun to florish as it has gotten cooler, perhaps I am just noticing it since everything else is turning. I have no guess but have wondered idly what it may be. Don’t recall any flowers but as I said… it is in my landscaping behind some shrubs.

Exciting venture to “name that weed”. Are there prizes? I know I have fought with weeds that turned out to be beautiful!

This is gonna be fun!

Alli November 16, 2009 at 7:33 pm

I have that in my yard, too! I think it looks like some sort of geranium, but not the one that Ivory posted. I’ve been looking in Google images for three hours, looking for it. Does it have any flowers? How do the leaves come off the stem?

Jen M. November 16, 2009 at 7:33 pm

I was going to recommend the Petersen’s guides, too. They are excellent resources. Another author who can offer “beaucoup” insight is Tom Brown, out of Virginia.

I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you learn about your own resident flora. We found out this past summer, for instance, that we can practically eat our lawn. 😉 (We have clover, dandelion, and black seed plantain, all edible, though you have to limit your clover, because it is very high in nitrogen.)

Definitely worth the time and money, those books.

Jen M.

Portia McCracken November 16, 2009 at 7:34 pm

Ivory, it is not a mint and I’m pretty sure it is not a geranium.

Since I don’t have the plant in front of me, it’s virtually impossible to identify it. However, here is a great site for weed ID: http://weedid.aces.uiuc.edu/

The site has a key you can run down and check all the known characteristics, leaving the box blank if you don’t know, and at the end it will give you the most likely plant with a photo & name. You’ll see from the key what is needed to identify one, so you’re the best one to do it unless you share the characteristics with us.

Good luck!

Jean November 16, 2009 at 7:57 pm

My guess would be Motherwort.

Kate November 16, 2009 at 8:55 pm

I have an expert on retainer – a girlfriend from college. She’s a writer and naturalist and her idea of a good time is trying to identify plants. Really. If you have any more pictures of this plant, blooms for example, post ’em and I’d lay money she can tell you what it is.

Don November 17, 2009 at 12:41 am

I have this too in MI, it looks like a wild strawberry. What do the flowers look like?

Don November 17, 2009 at 1:18 am
Tomato Lady November 17, 2009 at 1:28 am

I can’t remember what the flowers look like, but it does have little flower buds in the photo. This pic was taken earlier in the year, so I will have to go out tomorrow and see what else I can observe.
Thanks for the efforts you have all been making. I know we’ll get to the bottom of it eventually.
Prizes . . . hmm. Hadn’t thought about it. If I get some good looking seeds from my amaranthus I’m sure I’ll have some to spare.

Handful November 17, 2009 at 9:18 am

I down for seed sharing! Beautiful Amaranthus!

We collected seeds from almost everything in our garden this year. Interesting how some of them form. You just have to “let them go to seed”. (Duh!) Still finishing the broccoli seeds, then of course winter squash as we go along…

I’m never gonna have my counter back!

Suzanne November 17, 2009 at 10:19 am

I, too, started to identify the flora in my yard this year. I purchased a book called “Weeds of the Northeast” that was somewhat helpful but hardly complete.

The definition of “weed” is so ephemeral. I like letting mine grow if I don’t know what it is – some “weeds” are very pretty! Others can be quite invasive but if I like how they look, I remove most but not all of them so I can still enjoy their effects in my yard.

Of course, there is nothing that goats and chickens will not eat and regular composting is always an option.

Good luck with this – I would guess from my research some type of geranium as well and definitely not motherwort nor wild strawberry as has been suggested. Mint seems highly unlikely because of the veined leaves as well as the toothed lobes.

Yours for staying connected to the earth even through the “weeds”!

Tomato Lady November 17, 2009 at 11:13 am

Suzanne–Yes, I don’t think we’ve id’d this one yet. It’s hard for me to sit sifting through the databases when I know someone can take one look at it and say, “Well, that’s a so-and-so, of course.” I’m being lazy.
I like your weed approach. There’s just so much insistence on perfect lawns in the suburbs. I sort of get it, but the herbicide mania is scary. I think we need a mindset change.

Tomato Lady November 17, 2009 at 11:14 am

Handful–Don’t sneeze!

Duchess November 17, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Check out the plant file and identification groups on Dave’s Garden. The folks over there are great at figureing out plants

Tomato Lady November 17, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Duchess–Good tip. They are whizzes at bug identification so I’m sure they know this one.

Darci November 17, 2009 at 8:32 pm

All I can say is that it most certainly isn’t mint. The leaves are arranged around the stem wrong for it to be mint…Perhaps a “Thingius Maximus”? (If I don’t know something, I make up names. It may not be scientific, but it sure is fun. 🙂

mikapixie November 17, 2009 at 8:54 pm

What do you think? It looks pretty similar to me. I’m rooting for wild geraniums. It has the leaf structure for it.

Lindsay November 17, 2009 at 11:05 pm

I’m going to vote Crane’s bill as well. We have tons of that around here, but is obviously easier to classify in the spring when it flowers. And, being a botanist by education, that’s my excuse for not knowing what it is. I took my classification class in the spring. But I’m pretty sure that’s it. (wild geraniums)

Lindsay November 17, 2009 at 11:08 pm

And I will say that I’ve recently found out that every week has a purpose, as every weed takes advantage of grass that isn’t thriving. Grass that’s not thriving means there’s some sort of deficiency, and each weed has a particular area that it can thrive in despite the soil deficiency – like clover flourishing in low nitrogen soils. Anyways, just a little tidbit on how to ‘use’ those weeds.

Jess November 19, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Not sure what the plant is, but I love this approach to gardening — I love a philosophy that embraces the usefulness even of things that appear to have no use.

Shawn December 10, 2009 at 10:34 pm

It is daisy fleabane. Google it, the images are almost identical to your picture:) It is burned to keep away insects or can be made into a tea.

Shawn December 10, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Oops, posted at the wrong link, not fleabane, that is the white flowers just posted.

Sikat Ang Pinoy December 10, 2009 at 11:51 pm

I got sucked into the hunt! It looks something like this but I’m still looking…

Sikat Ang Pinoy December 10, 2009 at 11:52 pm

It says it’s Coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus var. palmatus) ..the link above, I mean.

Sharon May 30, 2012 at 9:07 pm

My guess is mugwort. (I know this is an old post, but it’s new to me!) 🙂
If I’m right, some people report interesting uses.

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