A Plant Identification Tour of the TC3 Farm – Learning Common “Weeds” – Student Post by Make
Today’s post is a plant identification tour of the TC3 Farm. All the species we will discuss today are potentially “weeds” on the farm. But what is a weed? A weed is simply a plant that is growing where it is not wanted (even a single tomato plant growing in a field of squash can be identified as a weed). The plants being discussed here are all things that grow on the TC3 Farm and can sometimes be found where we don’t want them. Gardeners and farmers alike know all too well the main problem with weeds: competition with their cultivated crops which reduces yields.
Here are some things to think about as you learn to identify your weeds. There are other attributes weeds possess that often get ignored. Weeds can be used for sustenance as mentioned in an earlier post (http://tc3farm.com/index.php/2017/06/19/harvesting-wild-plants-at-the-tc3-farm/). Weeds can be medicinal and are used in traditional medicine. Specific weeds under certain conditions can be used productively in a sustainable manner to properly manage your soil and environment (add organic matter, habitat for beneficial insects, encourage healthy soil biota). Other weeds need to be suppressed because they can harbor certain pests and ultimately leave you open to crop failures.
The first weed in our plant identification tour is known by the common name Horsenettle (Solanum carolinense). It is an herbaceous perennial flowering plant that belongs to the Solanaceae or Nightshade family. All parts of the plant are toxic to human health when ingested and can lead to death (its fruit which can resemble tomatoes are the most toxic). The most identifiable characteristic are its spines on the stem and underside of its larger leaves. Each fruit contains around 60 seeds. It flowers throughout the summer, from April to October. The plant can spread through seed and rhizomes (sexually and vegetatively). This plant can harbor and sustain Colorado Potato Beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata), Eggplant Flea Beetle (Epitrix fuscula), and Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca sexta) just to mention a few. Leaving the Horsenettle unchecked can lead to lower crop yields for Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Eggplants. Hint: The plant should be removed preferably with gloves as to avoid the stinging spines which can become embedded in your skin.