Obnoxious Plants That We Cultivate, Anyway

I spent the morning and the early part of the afternoon helping my aunt spread mulch in her garden, and I got the idea for this post.  As we spread the mulch, we came upon lots of “volunteers” growing in odd places.  “Volunteers” to a Southern gardener are plants that not only don’t stay where you put them, but they tend to re-seed and install themselves in areas where you don’t really want them.  Some “volunteers”, like redbud seedlings, you pluck out and throw away.  Others, because they are able to get along with other plants, you leave where they are after rolling your eyes for a little bit.  I’ve got some photos and a little information on a few of our favorite obnoxious volunteer plants.

We’ve intentionally planted every variety of mint that I’ve ever heard of at various places in the yard.  Below is a photo of a mint sprig growing beside a washtub at the edge of my yard.  This variety is Spearmint, and it’s growing in several pots and patches all around the yard.   All varieties of mint can get out of control, and out-compete some of your more delicate ornamentals, if you don’t keep it in control.  Personally, I let it go wild, and whack it down with the weed-whacker several times a year.  I like cutting the mint, because it perfumes the whole yard, and it dang sure beats the smell of cut wild onions.  We Southerners like to put a sprig of mint in the pitcher of sweet iced tea, sometimes; that’s just how we roll.

Spearmint

Spearmint

In the picture below you will find the Chameleon plant, or Houttuynia.  I ain’t about to try to pronounce the latin name, so y’all don’t even ask.  I’ve never heard anybody say it, anyway.  Everybody down here calls it Chameleon, and they usually cuss when they talk about it.  Chameleon grows mainly in heavily-watered areas, and is one of the few plants that will grow in standing water.  Chameleon is highly invasive, so if you are thinking about planting some in your garden, just realize that you’d better like it.  A lot.  I can say that, although it does tend to appear everywhere, Chameleon doesn’t really out-compete other plants; it just happily grows everywhere it wants to, and is willing to share soil with other plants.  This little relative of basil likes shade, and it tends to blush red at the edges of leaves that get sunlight.

Chameleon Plant, or Houttouynia cordata.

Chameleon Plant, or Houttouynia cordata.

Horsetail, pictured below, is another water-loving plant.  It’s also very obnoxious, and will run all over your garden, even into dry places.  If you decide to plant it on your property, be prepared for it to randomly appear everywhere.  It has no flowers, so the only beauty you get out of horsetail is it’s slightly architectural look.  You’d better like lots of architecture if you knowingly plant it.  You have been warned.

Horsetail.  Be afraid.

Horsetail. Be afraid.

Another of the mint family that we tend to cultivate is lemon balm.  It smells exactly like its’ name suggests.  Lemon Balm can grow to shrub-like proportions, and become three or four feet tall.  It has an innocuous little flower, nothing special; but it can be dried and steeped in hot water to make a tasty tea.  Most people in the South, though, keep some around just to brush against when walking around admiring their gardens.  The Lemon Balm plant readily releases its’ fresh scent without needing to bruise the leaves, so it’s kept mainly for the perfume.

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm

Oxalis looks a lot like clover, until it blooms.  I snapped a pic of the purple variety, although we also have some with white flowers, as well.  Oxalis is enthusiastic, and it will tend to appear all over the place after being planted just once.  It comes back every year.  It looks great in pots, but don’t plan on Oxalis staying in a pot for more than a year, because it spreads everywhere.  It can be competitive, but the root system is shallow enough that you can readily pull it up and throw it away.  Don’t worry about killing all of it, and not having any next year.  I’m not sure if Oxalis can actually die forever; it always seems to come back in another location every year, in addition to the original planting.

Purple Oxalis

Purple Oxalis

Finally, I’m going to mention Bugleweed, although it’s probably the least obnoxious plant on this list.  Bugleweed, or, if you like Latin, Ajuga Reptans, is the most polite ground cover I’ve ever found.  All of it on our property came from one plant that I dug up at an old work site and brought home.  Bugleweed spreads slowly, and grows flat along the ground, keeping other, more obnoxious weeds from growing; producing pretty little blue flowers on upright stalks early in the spring.  I like to keep Bugleweed around, because bees like the flowers, and the plant looks great spilling out of a pot, or growing over and between rocks.  The leaves blush in the sunlight, and turn a deep purplish red in the fall.  Bugleweed is a perennial, so you only have to plant it once, and then you can divide it as you like all through the year.  If it starts growing where you don’t want it, it’s easily uprooted and moved, requiring very little care from the gardener.

Bugleweed, or Ajuga Reptans

Bugleweed, or Ajuga Reptans

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