Monday, May 9, 2011

Weed Seedling ID

I've spent the past hour reacquainting myself with the likely weeds I'll find in my plot, which ones are useful and what they look like.

While pulling up some chenopods among other weed seedlings, it occurred to me that some of these "volunteers" would be worth sparing. I went through my "Wild Plants to Eat" book along with a mess of extremely helpful extension weed seedling ID websites and came to the conclusion that I'll spare the two little dicotyledonous pseudograin weeds: amaranth and quinoa. 

Lamb's quarters (first picture) is easily recognized by its leaf shape and frosted leaves. It's closely related to quinoa, and like other members of the Chenopodioideae (spinach, beets and chard) produces young leaves that are edible raw and older leaves that better cooked. My direct-sowed greens are all off to a slow start so it'll be good to take alternatives where I can. 

Amaranth species are popular ornamentals, commonly known as "pigweed" where weedy and closely related to chenopods. Like their kin, they produce edible seeds and leaves, but unlike all my other greens they grow well in sticky, hot weather - no doubt a useful salad trait in the great swamp that is the District. 

I've been impulsively grabbing more seed from the big box store (it's so cheap and there's still so much room in my plot!).* Maybe I'll get some ornamental amaranth too. I'll let you know how good they taste and if I decide to cultivate any other weeds this year.

* New additions: nasturtiums (salad and putative pest repellence), marigolds (like the smell and putative pest repellence), cauliflower and collars (for fall), lime and regular basil (for fun) 
** I found a volunteer potato on the edge of my plot today. I was very excited since I missed the opportunity to get seed potatoes this spring and the store ones all shriveled up. I moved it to a better spot with well chopped up soil. I also spared two mint volunteers. 
*** Volunteers = crop plants that manage to survive the winter


  1. Apparently a number of garden plants got their start as weeds, and that makes sense because as you look for "wild food" selecting young weedy annuals is a good bet because generally fewer of them employ toxic protections using as they do the production of over whelming numbers of offspring to hedge their bets. Sounds like a wilted lamb's quarter salad for dindins.

  2. Weed 411 was just what I needed. All kinds of little unidentifiables are cropping up in my hoophouse and garden. Any chance you're planning to write up a few more? A weed seedling compendium would be just the thing.

    And why don't I just do it myself, you ask? An excellent question. Well, because you seem good at it.

  3. StarvingofftheLand - that's a good idea! There are already lots of ID guides for figuring out weeds for control purposes but it might be fun to start hunting through the plots and park to cook/document more edible weeds. I'll definitely keep it in mind.

    Phytophactor - I was very tempted last year to turn the tables on the wild parsnips that were consuming my garden plot, but I didn't have the taxonomic guts to take on the Umbelliferae...




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