Saturday, August 27, 2011
HEAD COLDS AND WEEDS
HEAD COLDS AND WEEDS
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/27/2011)
Sneezing people with head colds are an unwelcome sight. They should stay in bed with hot chicken soup, but, no, they appear in public, sometimes at close quarters, spraying everyone in sight. With rheumy eyes and runny noses they are a lot like weeds. Sans merci.
A lot of gardening involves weeding. A weed is an unwelcome plant. It generally is fast growing, ingenious, and supernaturally resourceful.
When the Romans conquered England in 41 A.D., they brought with them the scotch thistle (Onopordium acanthium) which has its origins in the lands around the Mediterranean. It eventually hopped over Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman barrier defending Roman England from the Scots to the north. In addition to the scotch thistle, the Romans also introduced bathing to England.
It flourished in Scotland where it proved itself a defense against Viking invaders. In a nighttime sneak attack upon Scotland, the Norse stumbled into a thicket of scotch thistles. Their cries of pain awakened the inhabitants who drove them back into the sea. It was imported into the United States as an ornamental shrub because it’s flowers are beautiful.
Now it has become an invasive, noxious weed, especially in the West where it has become a barrier to cattle. I found a thicket of scotch thistles in a vacant lot near my house and set about uprooting them, a task which requires heavy, leather gloves along with full body armor. The Latin phrase Nemo Me Impune Lacessit (No One Injuries Me Unpunished) is on the national emblem of Scotland along with the scotch thistle. By the way, after pulling them, put them in a plastic garden bag and dispatching them to the county dump. Sans merci.
Another oddity is that it is a cousin to the artichoke (Cynara scolymus), both being members of the tribe Cynareae which takes its name from the Greek word for dog because their bracts look like the teeth of a snarling dog. It’s a delightful vegetable with anti-oxidant and anti-cholesterol benefits. Artichokes can be grown in Flagstaff just as can scotch thistles; however, while the artichokes grown here are beautiful to behold, they aren’t nearly as tasty as those grown in Castroville, California. Bon appétit.
Another member of the tribe Cynareae is the Centaurae diffusa, commonly called the diffuse knapweed which in the fall and winter turns into the tumbleweed. It, too, has snarling dog’s teeth. The word cynic comes from the Latin word for dog, cynicus. Cynics are toxic, baring their ideological teeth, claiming that everything is rotten save themselves.
The diffuse knapweed is a true cynic because it poisons the soil around it so that nothing else can grow save itself, eliminating any competition. It’s called allelopathy which means that a plant can release chemicals that inhibit the development and growth of neighboring plants. Just as cynics poison a social environment, so do diffuse knapweeds poison a horticultural environment, eliminating their competition by toxicity.
One plant can produce 18,000 seeds which are spread by the wind as its tumbles and sneezes over the land. A genuinely ugly plant, it is scraggly, prickly, and unappealing, with no known benefits. If it had been available to Moses, he surely would’ve used it as a plague.
When destroying it, it should be rooted out before it goes to seed, plant and roots, put into plastic garbage bags, and dispatched to the Environmental Services (garbage can). Sans merci.
And then there is cheat grass (Bromus tectorum), a truly despicable and aptly named form of vegetation. With its lateral roots it sucks up moisture from the soil, depriving other vegetation of moisture. Capable of displacing every thing else, especially native vegetation, it is easily combustible, making it a fire danger. A seedy profligate, it grows almost anywhere in the most miserable of soils, especially soils that have been disturbed. The best thing to do is pull it as soon as it is seen. A native of Asia Minor, it was imported with bales of alfalfa and has no known adversaries.
As with the common cold, the Scotch thistle, diffuse knapweed and cheat grass have arrived, and they’re sneezing. Sans merci.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011
Dana Prom Smith edits the column GARDENING ETCETERA for the Arizona Daily Sun. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.