I see this plant in so many gardens – do you know what it is?
This plant is possibly the most cryptic and devious noxious weed we have in western Oregon and Washington. I looks so deceptively like it belongs wherever it happens to be – even at the base of a big tree (which is where I often find it).
Its dark green, leathery leaves are like so many other broadleaf evergreens that we grow – Rhododendrons for example. It looks “ornamental” but no one can remember PLANTING IT. (That’s a clue that it has sneaked in!). So, thinking it is a desirable ornamental, people leave it to grow in their garden. It is highly adaptable – grows in the deep shade, sun, any soil apparently…what could be wrong with it?
Well, I’ll tell ya what’s wrong with it – it’s a NOXIOUS WEED!! That’s an official term, by the way, that carries legal implications. It is one of those weeds that was introduced via the horticulture trade. It flowers very early in late winter and you hardly notice the flowers, which produce many seeds, eaten by birds – hence the location of many plants, i.e. under places where birds perch – almost all of which seem to germinate readily. Its taproot goes deep quickly, and before you know it, the plant is practically impossible to remove.
What’s the big deal? A noxious weed
- excludes other species, including/especially native plants – either by sheer numbers or other, more devious methods including exuding chemicals that prevent other plants from growing
- forms colonies that compete for resources (light, nutrients)
- in this case, is toxic – the sap causes skin irritation; all plant parts are “highly toxic” according to the Wa State Noxious Weed Control Board
- reproduce readily and therefore spread widely
- grow in a variety of conditions – in this case very deep shade to sun
- are hard to eradicate
This plant is remarkably common. I have seen it in most yards I’ve visited in Seattle, and usually the homeowner does not know what it is, and in some cases has not even seen it – that is what is so striking. It is virtually INVISIBLE while it is getting established. Then is very hard to get rid of because the root is so deep, and will resprout if you don’t dig it out.
It hides in plain sight in ALL THE GREENBELTS as well as many gardens in Seattle, and I predict it will be the next plant people are targeting for removal when it finally becomes commonly recognized. Like blackberries, English ivy, laurel, and holly, it will be a lamented scourge of nature that is always with us.
Check your yard – many Wallingfordians did after my blogpost in March, and darned if it wasn’t there!