How about goutweed:
Goutweed, or Ground elder (which, tellingly, made it to number two on Brian Derby’s most hated list in Cath’s weed post) must be the most hated plant of gardeners here in Germany – it certainly has a bad reputation among allotment keepers, as I’ve recently found out.
To the uninitiated, goutweed may not seem so bad: if you are so inclined, you can use it in your salad and as a vegetable side-dish. It’s been said to help with rheumatism and arthritis for centuries (hence the name), but I don’t know if anyone has ever looked at this and can’t be bothered to check.
Goutweed has a fast-growing and spreading rhizome that new shoots can grow from and start new colonies. That’s why, once it’s there and given a few years, it’s pretty much all over. To get rid of it, you have to dig out the entire plant and sift through the soil around it to remove any remaining bits of the roots.
So, back to our garden: allotments in Germany are organized via a non-profit association (Verein) with a council (Vorstand). The head of the council (you can tell: this is serious stuff!) at our new allotment did not waste any time filling me in on goutweed and how to deal properly with it: only the second time we met, he told me – his voice lowered slightly – that I absolutely mustn’t throw goutweed on my compost heap ever! In fact, what I should do (and what he does, apparently) is to pluck it out, take it home in a plastic bag and sneak it into the food/gardening waste recycling that the city picks up. This was, he said with raised eyebrows, the only way to get rid of it.
Instantly, I started to wonder whether this comparatively inconspicuous and actually rather pretty plant could really be so evil as to sneakily start growing, half-decomposed and zombie-like, out of a compost heap and spread again from there? I wondered whether the roots could have some kind of feature that prevents them from decomposing? But I quickly reassured myself that, if I use a compost bin with a lid – preventing the buggers from getting any energy for growing through photosynthesis – the plants and roots will rot before they can sprout again. Right?
The thing is, we have so much of the stuff on our patch of green that we’re trying to turn from this:
…into something like this:
Well, maybe not quite. Photo by Wolfgang Staudt, CC BY 2.0
…that there is no way I could slip all of it into the brown bin at home without anyone raising a complaint. So the compost it is.
This post was first published on Nature Network, which has since been discontinued. The post has been moved to SciLogs.