Veronicastrum virginicum - culver's root
A weed is merely a plant that is in a spot that it doesn't belong or isn't wanted. So if a daylily is growing in a corn field, a farmer would consider it a weed; although a daylily growing in a garden - not so much. A wildflower is just a plant that grows, uncultivated, in fields, woodlands, meadows, etc.
A very common perennial plant, often seen in fields, planting beds, and along roadsides is the horsenettle. This particular weed has spines along its stem and on the midvein of the leaf. A white to light blue, star like flower with a yellow center blooms atop the spiny stems. Although a native to southern US, but spreading north through Canada, it is considered a weed in most situations. This plant should be controlled as it is poisonous to mammals and birds. Although it has not made it on the PA noxious weed list, it is considered a noxious weed in 37 states.
It is found in most of the US, is in the same plant family as the horsenettle. The nightshade family also includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. The black nightshade is native to the US, and is commonly found in moist areas, in open fields, and roadsides. It has a purple star like flower with a yellow center, much like the horsenettle. As this plant is poisonous just as the horsenettle, it should be controlled in pastures and other cultivated fields. Any part of this plant is considered poisonous, from stem, leaf, flower to fruit.
Very common and may be a plant you'll come across when walking past an old field. This plant has made the noxious weed list in 35 states, include PA and MD. Although found all over the US and Canada, this plant is native to the Mediterranean and Southeast Europe. It's aggressive, reproducing by roots and seed. The small purple and sometimes white flower on top of the prickly stems quickly spreads by wind and attaches itself to animals for ease of spread. If you have this plant, it's best to not only control it but get rid of it. As all noxious weeds, they take over our native habitat, leaving little food for our wildlife. Although some butterfly larvae do feed on the leaves of this plant, it isn't enough to control the spread or justify its life here.
Milkweeds are plants you may see in meadows. Two often seen milkweed are the common milkweed and swamp milkweed. The common milkweed has broad leaves, gets up to 3' tall, and has a root system that goes on forever. Found in a wheat field? Not good, however, found in a meadow…nice. Milkweeds are host plants for the monarch butterfly and bees absolutely love the flowers of these plants, but milkweeds are poisonous to livestock.
This milkweed is a perennial plant that has attracted the attention of the gardener. Adapting to moist or drier conditions, resistant to deer, fragrant, and grows well in heavy clay soils, this plant has showy pink flowers. Selections of this species, like 'Ice Ballet" - a white form, can be found in nurseries and garden centers. A great substitute to the heavy texture of the common milkweed and not nearly as spreading, the swamp milkweed is a plant that has earned a place in the garden and in areas that livestock are not grazing.
This another milkweed, is a native plant that is not incredibly common in fields. However, you may stumble across this bright orange flower that butterflies frequently visit. This native perennial likes drier locations, so can be found along roadsides and upland meadows. This is another native plant that has caught the attention of the gardener, due to its unusual orange flower. It reaches 12" - 18" and typically should be placed in the front of a perennial bed.
Is also called "Touch-Me-Not". It is a native annual plant that attracts hummingbirds. Found in moist locations along streams and on wooded edges, this annual is orange, reaches about 4' tall, and attracts hummingbirds. It's also been used to relieve itching. This plant is an impatien, the same genus as our annual impatiens we buy every year to plant in the shade. The seed pods when ripe will explode when touched, hence the common name of "Touch-Me-Not". This allows the plant to quickly reseed and become established year after year in the same location.
White, spiky flowers with whorled leaves gives this native perennial an interesting and somewhat unusual stature. It is tall (up to 5 feet) and blooms in July or August. It typically likes medium to moist soils, but may be found in locations that are wet. Full sun to part sun is its preference. Butterflies are especially attracted to this perennial.
Many of the plants mentioned here have struck the fancy of the nursery industry. The swamp milkweed and butterfly weed are especially interesting, since they are easy to grow with showy flowers. Selections have been made of both these plant species, and when visiting a nursery, you may find specific varieties that have been selected for color, length of flowering or size.
Culver's root, Veronicastrum verginicum, has also struck it big in the industry. Selections with showier flowers, more sturdy spikes, and longer bloom time have made the nursery benches for gardeners to buy and enjoy.
Get to know the plants you see in fields and meadows. Take a wildflower book with you on your next walk. You'll find out that some are invasive and should be controlled and some are beneficial and great introductions to your own garden. Learning more about what is out there in our environment makes us better stewards.