You know how sometimes some plant appears in your garden, and you don’t really know what it is? You end up watching it awhile, and eventually you decide whether you want to keep it – or not. This spring, a bright green rosette of leaves burst through the soil in front of our house. Strong and healthy, you could almost see it getting taller by the day, so it didn’t take me that long to figure out that this was not anything I had planted. Still, I was somewhat intrigued as to how far this vigorous wunder-plant would go, so I let it be. Truth be told – part of the reason for this was also that, in usual volunteer fashion, it had planted itself where removing it involved the moving of rocks and other hard labor. So, until I had time to delve into it, it just had to wait!
By now, I’m pretty sure I’m dealing with some kind of thistle. The whole thing is covered in barbs and spines, and it’s getting taller and more massive every day. Some leaves are more than a foot long! It is definitely something you’d think twice about before pulling out with your bare hands. At this point, I’m almost starting to worry a little about leaving it in place for so long. This plant is a monster!
But, since it is such a common weed – why couldn’t I find it in the Northwest Weeds book? None of the thistles in the book looked anything like it. I decided to leaf through the book one last time, from cover to cover. And this time, there it was! It just wasn’t in the Thistle section. As it turns out, it is a plant called Teasel – a “coarse biennial herb”, according to the weed book. Its Latin name is Dipsacus sylvestris. In Greek, “dipsa” means thirsty, which might refer to the way water (and Portland pollutants, as you saw above) gathers where two opposite sets of leaves meet around the stem.
Supposedly it has light purple-blue flowers, so I’m tempted to wait and see what they look like. Heaven knows there are other projects to work on, so leaving it in all its glory for another few days (weeks?) will not be a problem. But how, you wonder, did it end up in the garden? Who knows, but I imagine some seeds might have separated from some of the seed heads I’ve brought home. Even though I try to sterilize them before putting them in wreaths (half an hour in the oven at 350 degrees) chances are I missed a few. They make such a good wreath ingredient, I imagine I will still be bringing them home.
But since the book states it is a “noxious weed” in some areas, and it is indeed abundant along roadsides around Portland, I have decided I will not be trying to cultivate this plant myself. 😉 However, I will wait – and not just to see the color of the flower. You see, I discovered another cool thing about this plant. It is a veritable aphid magnet! The other night when I did my usual rounds, I noticed that it is absolutely covered! Oddly enough, there were also ants running up and down the juicy, succulent stalks, and somehow interacting with the aphids.
A little research later, I’m absolutely astounded! As it turns out, ants have “aphid farms” where they collect their herds, and milk sweet-tasting “honeydew” from their livestock. If predators – like lady bugs – try to get their share, the ants attack. If humans (like yours truly) were to try to remove the aphids by spraying them with the water hose, the ants would go after them and bring them back to the barn. How about that??? I’m completely floored…. If you don’t believe me – check this video out! So, from this, I draw the perhaps faulty conclusion that having this mega-weed in my garden is – at least for now – a good thing. It keeps aphids off just about every other plant – at least it seems that way. And, since I really don’t care particularly much about the well-being of the Teasel, I’m more than happy to have it be the host plant of an aphid farm. Much rather so than any of my more treasured specimens. Sure, the Teasel isn’t exactly a diminutive plant, but at this point, it earns its space. And, to tell you the truth – I actually think it’s pretty cool looking! (However misplaced…)
When the time comes, (before it goes to seed) I will pull it out. At that point, the act of doing so will probably be a little more involved than if I had done it earlier. But then I guess I wouldn’t have learned anything.