The May Garden




The Bad Actors of Spring-Lesser Celandine

Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) A native ephemeral that can be crowded out by F. verna

Ficaria verna (lesser celandine)

Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna, formerly Ranunculus ficaria L.) makes cheerful, bright yellow flowers that will carpet your lawn and garden. Entirely. It begins with shiny leaves low to the ground, but is soon in blossom. Underneath the leaves it grows tiny tubers, easily left behind during weeding. Another early starter (late winter), it produces mainly vegetatively, spread by animal (and human) digging and by flooding. Dormant in the summer, it grows grows in the woods before the tree canopy’s out, swamping the less prolific woodland ephemerals. 

Ranunculus ficaria

I suspect we get a little comfortable with the word “invasive”. It seems a bit dramatic. So just to bring it home, I’ll quote The Urban Ecology Center on Ficaria:

“In Cleveland, Ohio, lesser celandine was planted in flower beds of (just) two residences in the 1970s.  It escaped the confines of those two yards, and less than 40 years later, it had taken over nearly 300 acres of parkland along the Rocky River, with 183 of those acres having lesser celandine cover of more than 50% (that means that lesser celandine covered more than half of the ground, leaving little room for native vegetation).”


Ficaria verna tubers

Control is difficult.Weeding individual plants is possible if you get out every tuber,but once it has spread into large mats,especially on the forest floor, that isn’t feasible. Chemical control is the recommended option (sorry). Ideally you never let it get a beachhead,which leads me to a confession…

Back when I was a new landowner, new mom and new to rural life, I made a great effort to identify the wildflowers in our yard. One I believed (to my great delight) was marsh marigold. Jump ahead an undisclosed number of years. I know a lot more about plants now, both wild and cultivated, but I have not revisited all my earlier assumptions. (Some of you are already snickering. Stop that, it’s rude.) I am now a  proud new member of the Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners, and ready to donate some of my marsh marigolds to the plant sale. That’s right, I was politely and firmly told to take my plants home, and perhaps burn them. They were in reality the uncontrollably invasive Lesser Celandine.

(I confess this just to encourage the neophytes-eventually, you’ll learn a thing or two-and to remind experienced gardeners that our passionate hobby can,indeed,change the world, and not always for the better.)



The Bad Actors of Spring-Hairy Bittercress

Schlumbergera truncata (Thanksgiving cactus)

Spring is here, and the early bulbs are coming up in the northeast-snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis),winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), crocus and glories-othesnow (Chionodoxa luciliae).

Inside, beating them to it, my Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) bloomed,  and my Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), with it’s typical idiosyncratic timing,  is setting bud.

I even have an orchid heading for the stars for the second time-a personal best, since I usually murder them shortly after their first bloom.

But this post isn’t about the Good Guys. There are many lovely gardening blogs that can help you with that  (check out my latest favorite for some good info on snowdrop species). Closely following the first warm rain, my mood turns dark as I embark on the Search and Destroy missions of spring, starting with hairy bittercress.

Cardamine hirsuta seed pods

Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is  winter annual with small, white blooms. Like any annual, it lives a year, but unlike typical annuals you might think of, it’s year begins in fall when it sprouts and forms a rosette of leaves. It then over winters, and when spring comes, it’s up and ready to flower before most plants have poked out a leaf.

And when you are on your knees weeding, a poke in the eye is what you’ll get once it goes to seed. The ripe capsules (siliqua) explode at a touch, shooting thousands of seeds as far as three feet.

An early start, quick germination with multiple generations in a season and all those seeds is what makes this such a successful invasive.  Hand-weeding and mowing are attack strategies, but don’t mow the lawn too short or you’ll be hampering the competition.

Yes, it’s in the mustard family and yes, you can eat the leaves..Eat the garlic mustard,too, while you’re at it.

Next on the hit list: Lesser celandine