Monday, July 26, 2010


Last week while striding up the mown path to the ditch at the back of the property where I dump cat litter, I noticed colonies of an unfamiliar plant.  I tend to be alert to what grows around us in the wild--on roadsides and weedy meadows, so I was surprised that this had grown to nearly a foot high before getting my attention.

I examined one of the plants which has a square stem indicative of the mint family.  The leaves have a deep green minty scent with a tinge of bitter orange rind.  Struck by a thought, I picked several branches and brought them to the house for closer scrutiny. Sure enough, the structure of the plant closely duplicates the decorative coleus planted in my brick trough on the carport. Even the splotchy shadings of the leaves resemble the color pattern of the coleus.

On a hunch I typed "wild coleus" into the Google search engine. Up came a host of references for the plant which really is known as wild coleus, [also rattlesnake root, Joseph's coat, shisho]  but more properly called perilla frutescans.

I have read several articles regarding this plant and must say I am puzzled by what seem to be inconsistencies. The stems and tender leaves of perilla are used in Asian cookery; parts of the plant have been used in herbal medicine.  It is, however, highly toxic to livestock causing puliminary edema which usually results in death in horses, cattle, sheep and goats.

Having read this I dragged J. up the path to view the invasion of perilla.  I have felt prepared to crawl on hands and knees wielding my trusty snippers should that be the only way to insure that the beastly stuff doesn't blossom and go to seed.  It obviously has gained a foothold on our property.

Interestingly, the area of ground where I have found it was dragged and bulldozed by a man whom JM hired to "clean up" the fields shortly after he purchased the propery at auction last September. Not infrequently, seeds of many species will lie dormant until they are violently disturbed and "resurrected".
J. has taken this very seriously and is shopping for a "bush hog" to mow this and other weedy areas.
If you want to learn more about perilla, you could visit this site.

Sweet Annie
This plant is growing in profusion around the back of the garage and self-sowing into the edges of the garden and the flower borders.  J. has cut it down several times with the weed whacker and I have ruthlessly pulled up seedlings.
I couldn't identify the plant earlier in the season.  Each time I touched it or brushed against it in passing, the fruity/flowery smell tickled at my memory.  The more I tried to think of its name, the more this tidbit of information eluded me.
Last week, when an overnight rain had softened the ground I began weeding the short shady border by the garage. Suddenly, with an uprooted plant in my hand and the rain-washed scent of it in my nostrils I knew that it is sweet Annie--a member of the artemesia family.
I started it from seed in my Vermont garden a year or so before moving. [That was in my herbal crafting phase, which didn't quite materialize.]
By the time we returned several years later to move our daughter and her family to Wyoming, the neglected garden had become a plantation of sweet Annie.

I don't mind that mints are invasive.  I expect them to be. They are not toxic, and if one doesn't want a half acre of mint, just rip it out and discard it or make it into tea!  I need to harvest this and dry it.

These morning glories are twining through the same untidy area at the rear of the garage where the sweet Annie has invaded.  A pink form is attempting to strangle the New England asters which are growing near the clothes line.
I am guessing that my predecessor planted some of these things deliberately. South-central Kentucky is in growing zone 6--with summers that are described as "sub-tropical."  Most any plant with a weedy will to grow can flourish and threaten to choke out more desirable and delicate species if left to its own devices.

Trumpet vine is only marginally hardy in Vermont.  My elderly friend, Esther Jane, cherished one which yearly struggled up a trellis on her front porch.
Trumpet vine here is a roadside weed, likely another dooryard escapee of wide-spread habitat. We have a plantation of trumpet vine sprouted near the mother plant which has clambered up the crab apple tree. The young sprouts get mowed regularly and seem to thrive on it. [I caught one happily beginning a climb over the tire of the motor home--which gets moved every few weeks.] The orange trumpet flowers have set these fat green seed pods--more trumpet-vines-to-be.

I didn't take photos of the poke weed, the Virginia creeper or the poison ivy--all of which need to be dealt with.  Then there is the still nameless little shrub which comes up in the hay mowing;  there is the bamboo thicket which likely was another "specimen planting" which grew out of bounds.

I suspect we will wear ourselves out trying to keep these restless rooters under control--never quite winning the battle, but not daring to give up lest we be over-taken by a jungle!


  1. Amazing how prolific Mother Nature can be! I love the smell of sweet annie, and the trumpet vine, while weedy, is a lovely attracter of hummers, so I don't mind it at all. Bring it on, Mother!

  2. I appreciate some invasive plants, others drive me wild. It has been too hot here to even weed, yesterday was 102.

  3. Have not run into perilla before! (thank goodness) On the subject of real mint, my friend Sabry the herb man tells folks who he sells little pots of mint plants to that he's selling them an acre of mint. I've got purple and pink morning glories brought by the birds...they perch on my tomato stakes and pass any number of different seeds through their droppings...the morning glories are actually quite pretty and i just move their vine ends so they don't strangle the tomatoes. Poke i let grow in my wild blackberry bramble since the birds love the berries and Virginia creeper i let grow almost anywhere it shows up...the leaves are attractive in summer and stunning in the fall when they turn red. They don't seem to choke and strangle the way honeysuckle does. Honeysuckle's my real alien invasive nemesis.

  4. Some of these invasive species are so pretty in moderation. In our yard, we are guessing they just weren't kept within bounds for a number of years and in places have created a very verdant tangle.
    The ones in the pasture which are horse toxic have to go--I'll snip away to keep the others from swallowing the house.