Weed database – part two

We’re finally fulfilling our long held wish to build a thorough list of all the weeds on our farm, today we bring you part two.

We figure it’s going to add to our botanical knowledge, which can only help us be better farmers.

A ‘weed’ is defined as a plant growing in the wrong place, but we don’t really think of them as weeds, actually, we like to appreciate them all as individual plants.  We like to call them understorey plants (ie the plants that grow under our fruit trees), and the more we learn about them, the more we’re in awe of the amazing role they play in the environment.

We love your input – this is a living database that we’ll keep adding to. In part one we covered:
Marshmallow
Plantain
Capeweed
and we got some great feedback that a use for capeweed we’d missed was as a pollen source for bees.  Sure is!

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This week we’re starting with one of our favourite plants in the orchard:

Clover

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Common types

White clover (photo), strawberry clover, red clover, subterranean clover, suckling clover, balansa clover, arrowleaf

Botanical name

Trifolium sp (many varieties)

About

Usually found in lawns, open areas, and (with any luck), under your fruit trees! Different varieties appear in either spring, summer or autumn.

Identification

Typical three-lobed leaf, often with white crescent shaped markings on the leaves. Spreading habit. The flower stalks are longer than the leaf stalks, so the flowers stick up above the leaves.

Indicator of…

Clover is an indicator plant for phytotoxic ambient levels of ozone, which means if ozone levels are too high in the air, clover leaves show visible signs of damage.

Usefulness in the garden

Clovers are legumes, which means they’re nitrogen-fixing: they take nitrogen from the air and put it in the soil, which is very useful for other plants, which all need nitrogen as one of their main building blocks!

Clover has a taproot, which can be as long as 1m, so it’s great at bringing nutrients from deep in the soil up to the topsoil, particularly phosphorus. It’s also a beneficial insect attractor. Because it’s often very vigorous, and has a low, spreading habit, it can help to smother other weeds out.

Some clovers are perennial (white clover, sub-clover) others are annuals. They can spread either by self-seeding, or by rooting at nodules on their stems.

Some clovers are spring and summer active, while some are more active in the winter.

Food uses

Eat leaves – raw or cooked (steamed or boiled), before flowers appear.

Eat flowers – raw, cooked, dried for tea or flower

Eat roots – dried, then cooked

The leaves and flowers are high in iron, vitamin C, and many other minerals and vitamins. Think of it as a dark green vegetable – it’s as healthy as spinach, and is much sweeter than many of the other wild greens. Also quite high in protein.

Recipe

Stir fry lightly with onion, garlic and a little butter, salt and pepper.

Medicinal uses

Brew two tablespoons of leaves in a cup of boiling water as an expectorant if you have a cold. The tea can also help with liver and blood disorders. It’s so full of minerals and vitamins, it’s a fantastic tonic.

Haresfoot clover

Another type of clover, Haresfoot is worthy of an entry of its own just because it looks different enough that you’re left wondering…is it really a clover? Well yes, it is, with many of the same properties, but a couple of interesting differences.

haresfoot clover

haresfoot clover flowersIt's not quite flowering season for haresfoot clover at our place yet, so thanks to Wikipedia for this photo (all the others are ours).

Here’s a photo with the white and haresfoot clovers together, so you can see the difference in the leaves…the lighter green leaves are white clover, the smaller darker leaves are haresfoot.

clover and haresfoot

Other common names

Rabbitfoot clover, stone clover, oldfield clover

Botanical name (family)

Trifolium arvense (Fabaceae)

Identification

Habit  – a small erect annual herb, 10-40cm tall.

Flower – furry egg shaped clusters that are easy to recognise, flowers from mid-spring to late summer.

Leaves – typical clover like leaf, but much narrower than other clovers, ie they are longer than they are wide

Method of spread – seed

Fruit – a small pod containing a single seed

(Similar to narrow-leaf clover, but narrow-leaf has longer, much skinnier leaves, and the flower heads are 2-3 times as long.)

Indicator of…

Tends to grow in dry sandy soils, both acidic and alkaline, and is often found at the edge of paddocks, in wastelands and in unirrigated paddocks, but will also survive happily with irrigation.

Usefulness in the garden

It’s a legume, therefore a nitrogen fixer. It has a relationship with a special type of nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live in its roots. They take nitrogen from the atmosphere and store it in the soil, where it’s available for other plants (including your fruit trees) to use!

Has a taproot, and is a dynamic accumulator of phosphorus.

Self-seeding annual, makes a great groundcover plant in spring and early summer, particularly in low fertility soil.

 

Dock

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Other common names

Curled dock, broad leafed dock, fiddle dock

Botanical name (family)

Rumex sp (many varieties)

About

Native of Europe and south-western Asia, there are many different species, some are annual and some perennial.

Identification

Leaves of all dock species are edible and hairless.

Curled dock has large leaves (often over 20cm long), which are usually wavy-edged. The flowers are on tall, erect stems, and are densely clustered in rings around the stems. The fruit are rounded, with a rounded swelling on them.

Fiddle dock has leaves at the base of the plant that are narrow at the middle (fiddle-shaped), and each cluster of flowers has a small leaf at the base.  It has lots of branches.

Slender dock is an Australian native species of dock that has thinner leaves and fewer branches, and the flowering stems are leafless.

Wiry dock is another Australian native species that is a tumbleweed! It is very wiry and much branched, so when it breaks off at the base it forms a ball shape that is blown about by the wind.

Indicator of…

Often indicative of moist to wet ground with poor drainage, and at least intermittent waterlogging. Freshwater swamps and marshes are common habitats. Not associated with saline environments.

Usefulness in the garden

Most dock species have a long taproot, and are dynamic accumulator of calcium, potassium and phosphorus, which means they ‘mine’ those minerals in the soil, and makes them available for other plants.

Food uses

All the varieties of dock you can find growing wild are edible. You can eat leaves, flowers and young stems (but not too much at once – see warnings). You can eat dock either raw or cooked, and use the leaves in salads, herbal teas and stir fries.

According to Wikipedia, broad leaved dock used to be called butter dock because its large leaves were used to wrap and conserve butter.

Medicinal uses

Dock root has powerful medicinal properties, and contains lots of iron. It’s a blood purifier and body cleanser, and is reputed to help heal scrofula, leprosy, tumours and swellings! On a very practical note, if you put dock leaves in a blender with water and apply to itchy skin, it will apparently provide instant relief. It can also be used to cure mouth infections in the gums and root canals. In traditional Austrian medicine, Rumex alpinus leaves and roots have been used internally to treat viral infections.

Warnings

Leaves contain oxalic acid, so don’t eat a huge quantity at one time.

That’s 6 done, only a couple of hundred to go! This is a BIG project…