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Book has last word on Southern weeds

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

It is often said that a weed is just a flower in the wrong place. With the current interest in flower lawns and wildflower gardens, this has never been truer.

My general gardening philosophy is, "If it makes me happy, it isn't a weed." I very much like common Blue Violets, Evening-Primroses and Blackeyed-Susans. They're considered weeds, but they make me happy and I encourage their growth.

I don't like Field Sandburs, Narrowleaf Vetch, or Hophornbeam Copperleaf. They make me unhappy, and they're not welcome in my yard.

Most garden books are happy to tell us how to get rid of weeds in the garden. Sometimes they name the weeds they are talking about, but they don't help us recognize them. They probably assume that we know what a Dandelion or a Mulberryweed looks like. I want to know what the weed seedlings look like, so I can remove them before they get big enough to cause problems.

Gardeners now can consult "Weeds of the South." This reference is great for Master Gardeners, do-it-yourselfers, farmers, extension agents -- anyone who needs to identify weeds. With more than 1,500 color photographs, this book provides valuable information on 400 "weeds" found in our part of the United States (the distribution maps identify the full plant range throughout the continental United States and Canada).

Each plant account includes up to four photographs showing seed, seedling, plant, flower, and any other unique features; scientific names, common names, and local synonyms of common names; characteristics for seedlings and leaves, and special identifying features, reproductive characteristics and toxic properties. For grasses, there also are line drawings of the collar (where the leaf joins the stem), an important identifying characteristic. Also provided is an extensive glossary.

Take the Common Pokeweed, for example, a plant that appeared a couple years ago in my back yard. According to its profile, it also is called American pokeberry, garget, inkberry (what I call it), pigeonberry, poke, pokeberry, pokeweed, poke salad, and scoke. It is described as an "erect, freely branched perennial; leaf margins magenta, continuous down stem; mature berries dark purple to black."

There are color photos of the blackish seeds, the seedling, the flower cluster, and the shiny fruit. It grows as far west as Oregon and as far northeast as Quebec. Perhaps most interesting are the comments under Toxic Properties: "Plants contain several toxins causing digestive irritation, diarrhea, sedation, seizures, and decreased weight gain; young plants can be consumed if cooking water is changed several times; older plants are very poisonous."

I think I've eaten my last pokeweed.

"Weeds of the South" draws on the expertise of more than 40 weed scientists and botanists, led by Charles T. Bryson, a research botanist at the Southern Weed Research Unit in Stoneville, Miss. This attractive volume was published in association with the Southern Weed Science Society by the University of Georgia Press and will keep me busy in the yard. I only wish it would fit in my pocket.

Gary Barton is the head librarian at Dougherty County's Northwest Library.