The Teasel Incident

My gardens aren’t super organized. I’ve been known to buy some interesting plant and forgotten where I planted it. And, I’ve had other contributors to my garden – sometimes wind but mostly birds. There are lots of birdfeeders in their neighborhood and a whole variety of bird seed.

Right now the sunflowers, that I didn’t plant, are finishing up their season. The Korean Bellflower, that I didn’t plant, took a hit with the drought but seems to be surviving. I yanked out the thistle and other non-recognized plants while Nigel ate the dropped peanuts and dried fruit from under our birdfeeders.

Every year I face the dilemma of trying to remember if that seedling is something I planted and wanted, didn’t plant but may want, or it is really going to be a nuisance. Mostly I guess right, but now and then not so much. My worst mistake is still fondly remembered as “The Teasel Incident.”

This unremarkable plant that I was watching to see what it might become went from a basal whorl of leaves to taller than me practically overnight. At first I thought it might be Sea Holly or some other sort of exotic thistle. I knew I hadn’t planted it but it was so striking I let it go.

Teasel is a biennial (blooms once every two years) herb that can grow up to eight feet tall. It has prickly stem and leaves, which form a “cup” that holds water. The aromatic flower heads look like an egg made up many purple, dark pink or lavender flowers. The first flowers begin opening in a belt around the middle of the oval, and then open sequentially toward the top and bottom, forming two narrow belts as the flowering progresses. The dried head looks prickly and interesting. Mine attracted butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

The seeds are an important winter food resource for some birds, notably finch. Teasel seeds are a common component in bagged seed mixes.

The problem with Teasel is that it is an invasive species capable of crowding out native plant species. To make matters worse Teasel produces an abundance of seeds. A single teasel plant can produce more than 2,000 seeds and of those up to 80 percent of the seeds may germinate. Seeds may remain viable for at least 2 years. …and I had three growing in my backyard with my permission!

As soon as I figured out what it was I yanked it out. Praying it was before they had gone to seed.

By year two we had Teasel in all the flower beds and sprinkled throughout the lawn. I don’t even want to know how many had invaded our neighbors’ yards.

By year three we were still cutting, digging and chemical spraying every Teasel-looking seedling we saw.

And finally by year four we were Teasel free. And swearing, “Never again will I wait to see what it becomes.” Though of course I do.

One last note in closing, there is some controversy surrounding the findings, but there are some who believe Teasel helps cure Lyme’s Disease.


About Kary Beck

Mother and wife, gardener, wine enthusiast, avid online bargain hunter, and owner of two black-and-tan cocker spaniels.
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