Gardening & Living in Grand Style
My what pretty yellow flowers…
by Michael Johnson
Jul 04, 2013 | 971 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
What makes a weed a weed? There’s agreement on most plants, such as the puncture vine I wrote about previously, but for some plants it just seems to be a matter of whether you like the plant, or perhaps more importantly, whether you are okay with where it is growing in your yard.

Each summer, I am asked about many different plants, and this year, two have recently been brought into the office that deserve some attention. They are the black medic and buffalobur.

Black medic, Medicago lupulina, is a plant some people like because it does have some redeeming qualities. Other people don’t care for the black medic because they do not like where it’s growing. It’s a low-growing annual, but if we have a mild winter it can survive into the next year. Its woody like stem grows out from a taproot and the leaves – which are three oval shaped leaflets – often remind people of a clover leaf. The flowers are bright yellow but small, maybe one-eighth inch, and they often grow in clusters so they are easily seen. The seed pods look spiny but are hairy and contain a seed each.

This plant seems to like growing in lawns, in fact, I see it in mine many years. But the black medic, if it gets big enough, can smother out some of the grass, so for those who want the more perfect lawn it’s a weed.

The good qualities of this plant are that it is a legume and also good forage for livestock and could theoretically be cultivated for pasture or as a cover crop, although other plants are easier to grow for those uses. Should you decide you don’t like it, it’s fairly easy to pull up if the soil has some moisture. If you pull it up before it sets seeds you probably won’t see it year after year.

Then there is the buffalobur, Solanum rostratum. The plant is an annual, grows up to two feet high and is in the nightshade family. It’s a quite striking plant, but most don’t find it desirable due to the spines that cover its stems, the backs of leaves and flower heads. The leaves grow two to five inches long and have deep lobes. For many people, the leaves appear to be similar to watermelon leaves. The yellow flowers have five lobes, and in the fall, the seedpods can contain up to 8,500 seeds per plant.

This plant, like tumbleweed, can break off at ground level in the fall and roll along the ground scattering its seeds. The other negative for the buffalobur is that it is a host for the Colorado potato beetle and if left in place could help that population grow. Cutting it down with a hoe works, and if you decide to pull it by hand, do wear good thick gloves.

Finally, you might ask why is it referred to as “buffalobur?” Here in America, the bison that roamed our prairies in the past were erroneously referred to as buffalos. This plant grows throughout these and surrounding areas and the plant likes to grow around bison wallows. However, doesn’t buffalobur sound better than bisonbur?

These are just two of the many weeds I have seen over the years, and these two I see most years. As I mentioned, there can be good qualities to many of these plants, but that doesn’t mean leaving them in place is the best answer.

Thought for the day: “They know, they just know where to grow, how to dupe you, and how to camouflage themselves among the perfectly respectable plants; they just know, and therefore, I’ve concluded weeds must have brains.” —Dianne Benson.

For more information about these topics call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 259-7558, or email Mike Johnson at mike.johnson@usu.edu.

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