If you’ve ever pulled out the lettuce and left the chickweed, you’re in good company. Last week I admitted my failure to recognize ragweed, one of the most irritating plants in my yard (especially to my nose!). It takes practice to recognize plants in their infancy. After all, how much do you look like your newborn photos?
If you missed last week’s quiz, you can try your hand at some seedling ID by clicking here. If you’re ready for the answers, keep reading.
- Sunflower: This could be a weed, especially if you have a bird feeder nearby. Usually, people plant them on purpose, especially the newer, colorful cultivars. I don’t mind the black oil sunflowers (what you find in birdseed) growing in an out of the way spot, as the birds love to pick the seeds out of the seedheads. Besides, I love their huge flowers.
- Broccoli: The elongated leaves distinguish broccoli seedlings from cabbage, another plant of the same species. In fact, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli are all the same plant, Brassica rapa, with each bred for different attributes (much like a dachshund and a German Shepherd are all Canis vulgaris, i.e., dogs). Brassica rapa in its original form is a weed, which makes it difficult to weed a bed of Brassicas.
- Purslane: While often on the list of wild plants you can eat, and highly nutritious, most people consider purslane (Portulaca oleracea) a weed. At least its fleshy, red-edged leaves aren’t easily confused with anything else. Even better, it’s easy to yank out at any age. Don’t leave the pulled plants lying on the ground, however, or they will re-root and you’ll have to pull them out all over again!
- Redroot Pigweed: Another edible weed, this one in the amaranth family. They get pretty big and dump lots of pollen into the air when they bloom. Unless you want mashed pigweed roots, pull it out.
- Common Ragweed: Tell me this doesn’t look like a marigold—it takes a fine eye to tell them apart! This is a major source of late-summer hayfever woes. The flowers are easily overlooked, and the pollen relies on wind for dispersal.
- Puncturevine: Another marigold-ish seedling, only easier to spot. Look closely, then pull. You really don’t want puncturevine in your yard—those spiny seed pods are vicious! Originally hailing from overseas, this plant is on the noxious weed list, meaning that we are legally required to search for and destroy it.
- Russian thistle: One of the species that turns into tumbleweeds, efficiently spreading seeds far and wide. Destroy it while you can! It’s another noxious weed. And in case you’re wondering, yes, it arrived here from Russia.
- Lettuce: Lettuce is often sown directly into the garden, so be sure you recognize the seedlings. Unfortunately, related weeds such as prickly lettuce look pretty much the same. You might have to let them grow a bit if you’re not sure which is which.
- Canada thistle: If you don’t pull this as a seedling, you’ll probably have to resort to nasty chemicals. Perennial plants send out deep, long-ranging runners, forming extensive colonies. If you chop it up, each piece of root will start a new family. No wonder Colorado (and plenty of other states) list it as a noxious weed!
- Field bindweed: Another noxious weed, and notoriously hard to eliminate once the huge storage root becomes established. Pull every seedling as soon as you can recognize it!
- Velvetleaf: This may look like a squash or cucumber, but it’s yet another noxious weed. Unfortunately, velvetleaf is so well established in Colorado that all we can hope to do is keep it within bounds. Do your part and pull it out!
- Cucumber: This is a cucumber seedling. Other related plants (pumpkins, squash, melons) look pretty much the same at this stage. Even mature plants are similar. Remember where you planted them, so you don’t think they’re velvetleaf.
- Petunia: I assume you’re familiar with petunias. Most of us don’t grow them from seed, as any garden center will sell transplants. However, I included them because they look very similar to…
- Black Henbane: Looks like a petunia, doesn’t it? This one needs to come out because, you guessed it, it’s another noxious weed.
- Mullein: Fuzzy leaves in a neat rosette make this an easy ID. The plants are biennials, with a tall stalk of yellow flowers shooting up the second year. Happily, it dies after that, but not before scattering plenty of seeds to ensure future generations. And yes, it’s on the noxious weed list.