April 15, 2021
I decided it was time to get mulch on another of my front flower beds. I had purchased the mulch and began the process last week, but them became distracted (read tired) and never got back to finishing the job. The western half of the front bed had flourished with roses when Melissa’s mom took care of them. She had been unable to do much the last years of her life and no one had cared for them until we arrived three years ago. They were overgrown and in bad shape and last fall Mellissa asked me to tear them out so she could replace them (with succulents?). Now the bed had only one cluster of peonies (Paeonia obovata) and an unknown cluster of ground cover. It took me well over an hour to weed the bed (which was why it was not done yet) and distribute the four bags of mulch on the area. This should keep down future weeds until Melissa decides what to plant.
After carefully weeding around the ground cover and laying down the mulch I began to wonder about what it was. When I asked Melissa, she could not remember their name but did confirmed my fear that this was an invasive species and she considered it a weed. My identification app did not find them, but I did finally locate the species online. Sherardia is a monotypic genus of flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae. The genus contains only one species, the Sherardia arvensis or (blue) field madder.
Field madder is naturally distributed throughout Europe and North Africa, and into western and Central Asia. It has been introduced into other temperate regions, including North America, and probably came as an agricultural introduction. I cleared the weed and laid more mulch.
I have found that I am able to identify plant species when I want to. Part of my training as an archeologist was in basic plant identification to determine the ecosystem where human occupation was found. Not being in that context, my mind is often elsewhere, and I do not pay attention. I was helping my brother one day as he mowed one of his rental lawns and I was weed eating. I was weeding along the drive and my brother came rushing over madly waving his arms. The weed bed I was taking out was the small shoots of flowers the resident had just planted. My brother explained that he had done the same thing a month ago and the man had come out in tears. Now I had weeded the second set of flowers. I figured this time he would be even madder.
Thoughts: Field madder was recorded in the Oxford Physic Garden in 1658, although it is not a species deliberately planted. It is likely it was included because it was part of the local flora. In the seventeenth century field madder was a frequent agricultural weed. Its roots could be used as an inferior source of the red dye, madder, which is how it got its common name. Changes in agricultural practices since the 1950’s are associated with the decline of the species, except obviously in my flower beds. I have found it interesting to note the Oxford Dictionary definition of “weed” is “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.” The second definition referred to “a contemptibly feeble person.” Neither definition addresses the worth of the plant/person in another context, just that it was not wanted in its present one. The news makes it clear there are those who consider whole groups of people to fill the second definition as a weed. We need to stop classifying and start identifying the worth inherent in individuals. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.