Friday, July 9, 2010

Noodle roots


The USDA PLANTS database names it Quackgrass, ELRE4, Elymus repens, also known as: Agropyron repens, Elytrigia repens, Elytrigia repens, Elytrigia vaillantiana, Triticum repens, Triticum vaillantianum...

Unlike its botanical cousin, bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix), quackgrass is a garden weed, a mesic rangeland invader, a disturbed soil and abandoned cropland colonizer. Bottlebrush is, in my experience, a species found on dry roadsides, slopes, and open woodlands. Quackgrass creeps (repens) rather than being porcupine-like (hystrix)...hardly a direct comparison, but namings based on notable characteristics.

Both plants occupy corners of our gardens. Bottlebrush at the edge of a native "woodland" garden which features a jumble of plants from a jumble of habitats: jewelweed, oldfield aster, false unicorn, maidenhair fern, blue cohosh, Pennsylvania sedge. The bottlebrush is fading from the garden while it's immediate companion, columbine, also a dry soil plant, thrives.

The quackgrass hugs the corner of the cultivated vegetable garden. There, too, is a jumble of plants: giant Solomon's seal, beach plum (grown from New Jersey shore seed), a dwarf basil variety and a mat of "weeds". The quackgrass makes its way uphill to the hazelnut, lupine, rattlesnake master, lowbush blueberry, chicory, and Meyer lemon circus.

We've been trying to make sense of the garden over the years. We began with a naturalistic approach with annual vegetables that was difficult to maintain. We now have annuals in rows and perennials ringing the garden. Plants are grouped by water and soil type needs and their natural companions. Mostly. And often not. As you may have noticed.

So, I've been ripping and digging out the quackgrass. "I hate this plant. Look at the roots." White noodles with joints every inch or so. Some head above ground a become leaves, others shoot through the soil. I weedwacked the flowering individuals (along with the crown vetch. I'm not sure I'll ever come around to crown vetch...).

"When you're weeding your garden, look at the plants you are taking out. You might find them an herbal remedy," said my teacher.

Yes, I really should figure out what this plant is...yank. This one likes the worst soil...yank. Oh, here's noodle roots...yank.

The front edge of this photograph shows the beach plum (r) and low bush blueberry (l) patches.

***
While doing my homework on herbal remedies for the urinary tract, I found a list of plants, as one often does. (A list of what to bring when camping is helpful, especially if you've been camping before. A list of plant remedies is not helpful especially if you've never used them before.) Couchgrass was listed.

I found a photograph of couchgrass - noodle roots - quackgrass. I check Lauren Brown's Grasses: An Identification Guide. Indeed. "When you're weeding your garden, look at the plants you are taking out. You might find them an herbal remedy."

***

My herbal homework for this Saturday came via email. "Choose one: linden...hibiscus...corn silk...couchgrass..." And so, I made two jars of couchgrass tea. The infusion made by pouring boiling water over the roots sits on the counter. The sun infusion sits in the sun and occasional, too brief rainshower. The unused portion of the couchgrass also sits in the sun, but instead is desiccating like a weed (sorry!).

***

Quackgrass, where did you get your name? Conversing with ducks or did you not heal the right person?

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