Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pretty Spring Flowers

What a fantastic floral display Mother Nature puts on in Spring! And to think that some people would call her brush strokes weeds.

Right now, yellow rocket Barbarea vulgaris, is in full bloom. This plant is classified as a winter annual. This class of weeds germinates in the fall, survive the winter in a vegetative state and then bloom and set seed in the spring… fading away as the days lengthen and the heat of summer approaches. They produce a nice crop of seeds which will lay dormant until fall when the whole annual cycle begins again. Isn't Nature cool?

Of course this plant can be a weed if it is growing in competition with garden or crop plants. In fact there is a good chance that your garden is full of winter annual weeds right now. Many of the Brassica family (also called crucifers or mustards) are winter annuals. The family includes Virginia pepperweed, Wild mustard, Shepherd’s-purse, Bittercress, and Field pennycress. They are closely related to cultivated plants such as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

Other winter annuals include Common chickweed, Purple deadnettle and Henbit. Purple deadnettle, shown here, is lovely but I am more partial to Henbit's scalloped leaf margins and daintier flowers.

In addition to being pretty, many winter annuals provide forage for bees. They cover the soil and prevent soil erosion. Some call them the poor man’s cover crop.

So enjoy the pretty spring flowers produced by winter annuals. They won’t be here long. Instead, the flip side of annual weed life cycles is beginning. The summer annuals...crabgrass, pigweed, foxtails and ragweed are just getting started. It’s a little harder for me to warm up to these plants. And they are more likely to occupy your time in the garden than the winter annuals.

Want a good weed/wild flower book? Weeds of the Northeast is a great picture book containing more than 280 species common to the northeast U.S. It was written by the excellent folks at Cornell University, a sister “land grant institution” to Penn State.