Attractive Weeds

By Suze Stark

Weeds are often described as “plants growing in the wrong place”, like a rose in a planting of sunflowers. You are invited to regard without prejudice, the growth, habit, foliage and flowers of some plants described as “weeds” of which follows a few examples. Imagine their features, exhibited and celebrated as they would be in cultivated plants. Also, attend to the evocative names of these plants that have marched with us through our history and landscapes: Indian plantain, starry campion, yellow pimpernel, horsemint, Venus looking glass. You might never choose to allow weeds in your home landscape, but you can still enjoy knowing them.

Arnoglossum atriplicifolium (Cacalia atriplicifolium)
Pale Indian plantain

For something stately and dramatic, Indian plantain, will fill the bill. Stalks arise like a sentry from a large-leaved rosette. The stalk of heavy substance leaves are topped by creamy off-white flower clusters – just icing on the cacalia.

Blephila ciliata

Blephila hirsuta

Blephilla ciliata
Ohio horsemint

Blephilla hirsuta
Downy horsemint

Everyone will love these clumps of quilted grey-green leaves topped by blue violet pagoda-like flower spikes.

Pethan July 26, 2005 Mosel, Germany
Circaea lutetiana
Enchanters night shade, sorcerer of Paris

Magical by reputation and appearance, who won’t love this charmer. Despite the common name, it is not a true nightshade though. The velvet sheened leaves encircle a delicate spire of tiny white flowers.
Clematis terniflora
Sweet autumn clematis

This plant’s robust dark green foliage is lovely in summer and it also provides a stunning fall display of fragrant white flowers. The blanket of blooms are very attractive to insects and are followed by fluffy seed heads eaten by cardinals, finches and sparrows. It is disease resistant and can easily envelope small houses. Be cautions, it seeds madly.


Commelina communis

Dayflower is a familiar exuberant passerby with rambling jointed stems, small leaves and short-lived bright blue flowers.  It loves a sunny path or ditch edge. It can be easily ripped out by its short fragile roots, but often fidgets its way back.

Cryptotaenia canadensis
Honeywort, Wild chervil

Honewort presents clean dark green angular leaves.  The “tailored” sharply cut foliage, tiny white flowers, sheathed stems, and narrow dark seed heads, suggests the weed version of office attire.  This does not diminish its ability to reseed freely.

Erechtites hieracifolia
Pilewort fireweed

“Fireweed” may refer to the explosion of ultra-white seedheads following the curious bud-like flowers.  The unusual “important looking” appearance of this plant often inspires inquiries from even “non-plant people”.  “Pilewort” is attributed to treatment of piles (hemorrhoids) or “pile”, using fluff to stuff pillows.  Learn to identify this plant and amaze your friends.

Geum canadense
White avens

This gem of a plant is often overlooked despite a beautiful winter tapestry rosette of silver varied greens.  Still handsome when the sharply cut leaves arise on stalks ending in white flowers.  A commoner with class.
Lactuca floridana
Wild blue lettuce

Wild blue lettuce has narrow tapering spires to 8 feet topped with sky-blue flowers.  The deeply cut dark green leaves are prone to mildew, but plants are easily removed, with a shallow taproot, before the fluffy seeds take flight.
Packera aurea
Golden ragwort

This native brings sunshine to shady places.  The low shiny dark green mounds erupt in brilliant gold flower spikes.  Leaf undersides and globular flower buds are dashing metallic purple.  What a plant.

Karen A. Rawlings, University of Georgia,
Passiflora lutea

The thread tendrils of this native passionvine erupt, twining upwards, and over, nearby plants.  The small, ornate, citron-colored flowers glow against fluttering and occasionally silver-spotted, dark green, bat-like leaves. What a charmer!

Persicaria virginianum
Tovara, polygonum, knotweed, jumpseed

Tovara sports beautifully shaped leaves; some dark green, other varieties variegated, or boldly marked.  The tiny bead-like flowers dance above foliage on fine arching wands.
Phytolacca americana

The large tobacco-like leaves, purple fruits and statuesque stems, towering over 6 feet make pokeweed an impressive plant and popular bird buffet.  All parts are toxic to humans.  Some types of poke are grown in Europe for their beauty, but they may seed madly and large tubers are hard to remove.  They are also prone to plant viruses.

Ranunculus abortivus
Small leaved buttercup

This is a perfect early season transient. The minute button-flowers puncuate the artsy bright green ultra-fine stems.

Sanicle canadensis
Black snakeroot

Black snakeroot has handsome compound leaves. The small pom pom flowers become heinous sock hugger seeds, but if lopped off, the foliage remains handsome.

Scrophularia marilandica

Well worth seeking out are these tall spare stalks that easily lurk in edges with part shade.  They are topped by a candelabra of tiny maroon jugs o’ nectar, that are magnets for hummingbirds and many varied insects.

Silene stellata
Starry campion, widow's ruff

Starry campion is guaranteed to stop any stroller with its unusual whorled foliage and large brilliant white fringed flowers.  Likes high shade and poor soil.

Taenidia integerrima
Yellow pimpernel

Yellow pimpernel is an extraordinary name for an extraordinary plant.  It features gloriously glaucous, spare, delicate foliage with an equally delicate inflorescence - like a fireworks finale – a radiant starburst of tiny flowers.
Teucrium canadense
Wood germander

Wood germander is a shallow rooted but rampant spreader with erect lavender flower spikes.  The gently fragrant blooms draw insects to shady areas.

Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State Univesity,
Tragopogon dubius
Meadow salsify, goatsbeard

This plant is sure to fascinate with its flowers and seed heads; resembling mammoth shimmering dandelions.  A fun, occasional,
roadside occurrence.

Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia,
Triodanis perfoliata
Venus’ looking glass

Any ardent “weed” lover will feel fortunate to view this brief early summer visitor – a small rococo pillar of fringed, clasping clamshell leaves and glowing violet flowers.