naming weeds: hello, galinsoga and commelina

Galinsoga ciliata, or Galinsoga quadriradiata, a weedI HAD TO LAUGH when I read that Galinsoga, a vegetable-garden weed I’m all too familiar with (photo above), is also known as “gallant soldier” for marching forward energetically. A trooper, indeed. And finally—finally!—I know the name of the blue-flowered thing that looks like someone dropped some pieces of their spiderwort houseplant in my garden. Hello, Commelina. As always, I’m encouraging myself (and you) to put names to our weeds, because knowledge is power when it comes to beating them.  This week, two more names to perhaps add to your list. Anybody look familiar?

galinsoga wastes no time

GALINSOGA is also called quickweed; the Rutgers weed database says that’s because the seeds that follow its tiny, daisy-like yellow and white flowers start to germinate on their way to the ground—no waiting, and quick enough to produce multiple generations each growing season.

More than one species are listed in weed books; I have G. quadriradiata, which I actually know as its synonymous name G. ciliata, and I know just where it came from. A friend in New York City shared a desired plant a decade ago, and a gallant soldier was lurking in the pot, a hijacker. (Originally, it’s from South America, but is now widespread in the U.S.)

Galinsoga weed uprootedI recommend pulling this one as soon as it emerges–it thankfully comes out easily when young–or using a hoe to dislodge seedlings, being sure never to let it establish and flower. With repeat weeding or cultivating, I have kept it from becoming a wider issue.

Remember that a shovel with clods of dirt remaining on it, used in an infested bed then used in an infested one, can spread seeds of things like Galinsoga.  Clean tools between uses if you’re working around seedy weeds.

Bad infestation? Maybe do what environmentally conscious farmers sometimes must, and don’t plant the area for a season, instead cultivating repeatedly to disrupt the cycle of germination and establishment of an annual weed such as this.

Commelina communis weed emerging in late springa weedy spiderwort: commelina communis

FOR YEARS, as mentioned, I’ve half-imagined that bits of a former resident’s spiderwort houseplant had jumped out the window and planted themselves in the garden, but of course that’s not the story.  (If I lived in Florida or another warm zone, a “houseplant” a subtropical Tradescantia might in fact be one of my toughest weeds.) But for me the story is the Asiatic dayflower, Commelina communis, another widespread invader from (you guessed it) Asia. It’s in the same family as Tradescantia, so you, too, may notice a resemblance. This one has small blue flowers.

Commelina communis, uprooted and in flowerThere’s a native American Commelina species called C. erecta, but we don’t seem to have it hereabouts, according to reference sources on local flora. And besides, this particular pest I’m always pulling around now only appears in semi-shady to shady, cultivated spots in my garden where the soil’s been disturbed and I’ve brought in things from the nursery: classic weed modus operandi. Commelina communis is another common hitchhiker, especially pesky for garden centers. This IowaPlants.com page has a very detailed set of photos of all its parts, if you want to do a closer ID.

Asian dayflower is an introduced annual that reproduces by seed, says the UMass-Amherst Extension, which has good photos of a thick stand of it in flower. I’m happy to have no such photo of my own; that’s a situation I work my best to prevent happening here by pulling or hoeing the emerging seedlings, as with the Galinsoga.

Clearweedm or Pilea pumila

ah, the order of things

I KNOW, you’re probably thinking: Doesn’t she have anything to do with herself but figure out the names of her weeds, poor lonely woman? (That’s clearweed, or Pilea pumila, above.)

No worry; I haven’t completely lost it, or drifted away from civilization. This feels good.

There’s an expression, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” Well, there is something about naming my weeds, putting one or two more a week into its place in the (dis)order of things, that I’m finding to be a lot like that. Even in the early summer jungle—which is what a garden after so much rain wants to be right now, flexing its unruly muscle at me—it feels comforting, and empowering.

Oh, and I love any excuse to stop all this incessant weeding and go inside, make a cup of tea, and look things up.

some other first-name-basis weeds

  1. Lindsay says:

    I have the commelina! I thought I’d gotten it, but I just noticed a patch and pulled them all up (I think) this morning on my way out the door. It’s so pretty I’d almost plant it, if I didn’t know better!

  2. Yvette erwin says:

    Asiatic Dayflower is quite beautiful. I eat the flowers in salads and the greens taste like spinach. They can also can be dried for tea. When they are mowed, they make a beautiful grass because they still grow the small blue flowers. Perhaps you should try them some time.

  3. David says:

    I too love the Commelina!
    Very pretty flowers as well as edible.
    I’m encouraging it in my yard as much as possible and including it in several of my weekly meals. yum!

  4. elizabeth herbst says:

    Thank you for helping me identify the 2 most common weeds in my garden. Now I can research and control them ,knowing more of their life cycle :). you are right! Knowledge is power

    1. margaret says:

      Happy to help, Elizabeth. I am fascinated to be finally — after all these years gardening — really stopping to ID my weeds once and for all!

  5. Kate says:

    Galinsoga looks so much like Alpine strawberry when it first emerges that I think I’ve gotten lucky and had a bird drop a few seeds my way. Then, it gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger….

  6. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    Well now I know the name of Galinsoga! Thank you. I have this throughout my garden. I don’t dare look at what other weeds I may have right now … eek. I think it’s good for a gardener to know the names of his or her weeds and I appreciate your educating us.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Bonny. The good thing about botanical Latin is that it wasn’t a spoken language, so don’t worry how you pronounce it. :) It was a language created to help organize things taxonomically, used by botanists from many different languages as a common naming convention. With these two I say gal-in-SOW-guh and calm-mell-EE-nuh, but again: there is no right or wrong!

  7. Francoise De Smet says:

    I wonder if Galinsoga could be used as a cover crop. It looks a bit like the young buckwheat plants I sow as green manure. I am very thankful to Galinsoga, because a neighbor had some thistle that went to seed some years ago and I had the worst thistle infestation in my vegetable beds. I am still pulling an occasional thistle plant, but it seems to have been overcrowded by this little galinsoga (a real David vs Goliath). I pull the galinsoga and leave it on the bed between the plants for earthworms to find and to prevent seeds to germinate.

    Just found that Galinsoga is edible. I am starting to like this little weed.

    1. margaret says:

      I think you’ll be sorry, Francoise, for encouraging it. Better to select a plant that benefits the soil and pollinators than this guy.

  8. I thought I loved you before, but now…woo! thank you for identifying the galinsoga, a plant prevalent in our veggie gardens but not seen in the display gardens of flowers. I wonder why that is? I have attempted to ID this plant since 2001, even mailing it to our extension HQ to no avail. It’s only saving grace is it is so easy to pull out. I leave it in the cukes To shade them. Works well. Thanks again. One of the mysteries of my gardening life solved. Except for why is only grows in veggie gardens. Hmmmmmm. :)

  9. Susan Gruss says:

    Thank you for identifying Clearwater, my current worse nemesis. It grows through thick mulch, in total shade under other plants, and pops up overnight and grows quickly. It’s only redeeming quality is that it comes up very easily, unfortunately, it takes up a large clump of good top soil.

  10. Jane says:

    We had Galinsoga in the garden when we moved in 38 years ago. I completely eradicated it about 10 years ago but never knew what it was called till now. We have new weeds that have taken its place and I haven’t been able to conquer my old nemesis, bindweed. It’s interesting and fun to identify my garden companions, thank you!

  11. Ann Lamb says:

    Another option for the Galinsoga: In Colombia, it is called Guascas and is a culinary herb necessary for one of the national dishes, Ajiaco (soup). Dry the Galinsoga and sell it or…find some Colombians in the neighborhood and let them weed your garden :).

    Possibly eating the plant was a remedy for ridding your garden of it?

  12. Leslie Gold says:

    Yet again what so many gardeners consider annoying weeds to be destroyed, are actually Mother Nature’s food and medicine (how could it be otherwise, as everything that grows has some offering to the creatures of this planet?!).

    I have eaten the Asiatic Dayflowers over several summers, and the Galinsoga turns out to be highly nutritious and tasty. Instead of finding them bothersome and something to be shunned, we could instead be truly counting our blessings!!!

    I would love it if, when you give us identification information, you would also research and give us the gift of a more rounded picture by telling the truth about Mom Nature’s nutritional gifts. Thanks.

  13. Louise says:

    I have clear weed – with marsh marigold, mugwort, bishop’s weed, jewel weed and myriad grasses. Pokeweed, which you identified for me years ago was the hardest to dig out! I inherited a neglected garden when I got the house.

  14. Tracy says:

    Arrrrgh! The dreaded Clear Weed, Japanese Beatles, the little-duck-weedy looking plant that appears when I over water…and crab grass. If I could eradicate these items from my life, I would be a happy girl.

  15. Christine Grabowski says:

    Thanks for solving a puzzle. We too have galinsoga rampant through our raised veg beds but since we had trucked in brand new soil when we created them, I couldn’t figure out why that particular weed is so prevalent and yet we have only the occasional dandelion, etc. Now I realize that my husband’s lack of diligence to remove the plant between corn stalks and onions, thinking that the vegetables are doing “just fine,” is the problem as the galinsoga reseeds readily, hence the infestation. Thank goodness they do come out easily as opposed to some of the other noxious ones that I am continually removing from various flower beds.

  16. naomi says:

    I’ve wondered what those were for years – thanks. I won’t be eating mine. The majority grow by the street where I attempt decorative plants as the cars feed them. Now, how do I get rid of papyrus, elephant ears, lantana? Those plants may be loved elsewhere, but my yard isn’t big enough for a jungle (I did eradicate that giant grass: bananas).

  17. Sara says:

    I’ve been pulling Galinsoga for a while, but since I read this, I’m really noticing everywhere (and fortunately sometimes before it goes to flower).

  18. Mary says:

    Galinsoga, (or Guascas) is a weed that the Colombian people use in a potato soup, with Chicken base. Colombia has more different potatoes that are natural to Colombia. I use Galinsoga in my Ajiaco (their potato soup) my family loves it.

  19. Lizabeth says:

    Wow! I thought the commelina was spiderwort, and I was preserving a Virginia native! I guess I’ll go dig it out! Thank you!

    1. margaret says:

      I thought the same thing years back, when I first started to notice it in an area here. Oh, these naughty weeds with their tricky ways! : )

    1. margaret says:

      I do, Kate, if it hasn’t set seeds…and if it has, I put if first in a big trash bag alongside the compost hear and let it bake in the sun first to kill the seeds, then dump the fried dead plants in a few weeks or whenever into the heap. Sort of a pre-solarization step for stuff with bad seeds (or rhizomes).

  20. Dianne says:

    Mulberry weed is taking over yards…at least in the southeast. I believe mine came in on bedding plants many years ago and I’ve been battling it ever since. Starts spreading its seeds when very small. Grows up into ornamental grasses and shrubs to where it is almost impossible to get at. Grrr. I have equal hate for mulberry weed and squash bugs!!!

  21. Lynne says:

    If there is such a thing as a favorite weed to weed, galinsoga is it. Little galinsoga plants are almost a joy to pull easily from my garden, when contending with monsters like creeping charlie and creeping bellflower in other parts of my property.

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