Monday, January 4, 2016

Oh, that weed!

When I decided to write about my favorite ‘weed’, I first had to find out its name. I asked around and people said, ‘oh, that weed, its everywhere.’ ‘Oh, I see that all the time.’ ‘Isn’t that such and such’, as they offered an incorrect name for it.

The samples I used to see and still see in Turkey are scraggly due to the warmer climate with lots of sunshine. This road side ‘weed’ has always been on my mind and as a child the seed heads reminded me of busy spiders.

In the end, invariably, the internet provided the information I was looking for. After eliminating Andropogon gerardii and Cynodon dactylon (common name Bermuda grass) that resemble the plant I had in mind, the ‘weed’ turned out to be actually an annual grass that originated in Europe. Crabgrass, as it is known by its common name, the species I’m familiar with has the complicated binomial name Digitaria ischaemum and it belongs in the family Poaceae (also called Gramineae or true grasses).

            Andropogon gerardii    Cynodon dactylon

Digitaria ischaemum is a species of crabgrass also known by the common names smooth crabgrass and small crabgrass. It is native to Europe and Asia, but it is known throughout much of the warm temperate world as an introduced species and often a common roadside and garden weed. It has smooth stems and an average height of 15cm. It is a warm season annual that grows from seeds.

Digitaria comes from the Latin word 'digitus', meaning finger and ischaemum comes from the Greek ‘ischaimon’ or ‘ischaemos’ meaning styptic (tendency to check bleeding by contracting the tissues or blood vessels; hemostatic) for its ability to stop bleeding. I did not find anything else on this property.

Digitaria ischaemum

A similar crabgrass, Digitaria sanguinalis, on the other hand, is known by the common names hairy crabgrass, large crabgrass and purple crabgrass. This one is known nearly worldwide as a common weed. It is found throughout the United States and southern Canada. This variety has hairy stems and grows much taller. It is used as animal fodder, and the seeds are edible and have been used as a grain.

I photographed the above crabgrass in Canada last summer. I can not tell which species it is.

There are 300 species of crabgrass. Crab grass often gets confused with other weeds. Sometimes the names crabgrass, devil grass, and quack grass, plus Bermuda grass, are used interchangeably among all those plants.

Crabgrass is one of the plants that I really wanted to write about here once I got to figure out its proper name. I’m thinking of many more plants that I have known since I was a child. There are also the ones I remembered when I began to intently seek out plants. Then, there are the ones I notice for the first time as I look around more attentively and see many different everyday plants everywhere. 

I do not want to stop writing about plants, but from now on I would like to do it at a slower pace. I will tell about one plant each month and if you happen to read and enjoy one of my posts drop me a line, please.