Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How does your garden grow? Quite malignantly, thank you!

Found this link today:
Are Poinsettias poisonous?

Interesting. I haven't had poinsettias in my home in years because I believed the poison myth.

But how is this weird news? It reminded me of a personal weird experience with plants (and this story is news to you, and thus, weird news--great segue way, huh?)

Being an outdoorsy type, I've been working for several years to make my backyard into a paradise. The first step was putting up a six-foot privacy fence (best money I ever spent). And little by little, I've been trying out different plants in the landscaping. Our winters are very, very harsh, so it's difficult to find plants that will last more than a year without intensive coddling (and I'm not the coddling type; so it's either grow or croak, I don't care).

I was having problems along one section of the fence. It's a shady spot, so it's hard to find things to grow there. I like plants that climb, (I have a hops vine along one sunny side), but I also like them to have flowers. I tried morning glories--nice, but didn't reseed themselves thoroughly enough. Then I tried Cyprus vine--epic fail; they never made it past an inch tall. Then I tried Clematis--they lasted one summer, in spite of supposedly being hardy enough for our winters. So I told my husband, "I guess next year maybe I'll try bittersweet. Or deadly nightshade." (I was joking about the nightshade . . . maybe).

The next year, as I was preparing the ground for planting, I noticed an odd little plant in the flower bed with tri-lobed, dagger-shaped leaves. Intrigued, I let it be. Sure enough, the little thing grew into a viney plant, with lovely purple and yellow flowers and beautiful berries that turned from emerald green, to sunshine orange, to deep maraschino cherry red.

And that plant? Bittersweet Nightshade. I kid you not.

The plant is a toxic, non-native weed and is supposed to range pretty much everywhere, but I've never seen it here before (and I spend a LOT of time out in the woods and along the rivers). And I've had flower beds in my yard for over ten years and never had the plant appear before. It is found some places in Minnesota, so it may have somehow made the long journey here. Surely no other gardener intentionally put the toxic plant into their garden? So some bird from far away just happened to overhear my decision to put bittersweet and nightshade in my garden (and being a bird, didn't understand I was talking about two different plants), and decided to oblige me by pooping a bittersweet nightshade seed into my flowerbed?

Yeah. There's some weird news for you.

And in case your curious, yes, I left the plant alone (live and let live), and it has grown to cover most of the eight-foot section of fence it sprouted by. It survives our harsh winters very well, which is exactly the kind of plant I need. And after all the effort the plant made to get here, who am I to argue with it?

If you'd like to see pictures of a bittersweet nightshade:
Minnesota Wildflowers

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