No one likes goats heads. I don't mean the heads of actual goats. Most people don't get worked up about those one way or the other (unless they've lived with actual goats, and then they might have some pungent words to say). No, I'm talking about that scourge of bare feet, that bane of bicycle tires, that painful thorn in the flesh, Tribulus terrestris, aka puncture vine, aka caltrop, aka goats head. It is a weed. It is a menace. It is a trouble and a vexation, come to torment us.
|Photo credit Steve Hurst @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database|
When my parents were newlyweds and had started their first vegetable garden, they found an unknown but charming plant coming up in it, and cherished it like a wildflower. (It wasn't goats heads. They knew better than that!) They made space around it, watered it, mulched it, and let it grow, until my grandpa, who'd grown up a farmer, came to visit and said, "Why on earth are you growing wild lettuce?"
|Not wild lettuce.|
The thing with wisdom passed on from previous generations, is that mostly it's reactive rather than proactive. If Grandpa had said, "Beware the wild lettuce, my children. It looks like thus-and-so," my parents would never have grown it. But you can't anticipate everything, so Grandpa never thought to warn my parents and instead waited until they already had grown wild lettuce, and then said, "Why did you do that?" I think he assumed that genetic osmosis worked, and that my parents must already know what he knew. He was mighty entertained when they didn't.
My parents told me how silly they felt to have grown wild lettuce, but they've never told me what it looks like. So I know not to grow it, if only I knew what it was, which I don't.
All to say, weeds are an adventure around here. I don't actually have many, thanks to our dry climate (and a lot of mulch). Even if we have enough moisture in spring to encourage weeds to sprout, the seedlings don't usually make it past early June, when the sun gets to Smiting strength. With the survivors, I like to tempt fate and see what happens. (Unless they're goats heads. I know better than that!) It's my own way of living dangerously. What wild lettuce equivalent will I cherish and then be embarrassed about? Last year's Weed of Note was a common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis). This year's seems to be...
even more attractive. It's certainly a member of the mint family, with that square, chiseled stem, like a cowboy's jawline, only longer. (And greener.) My guess is scarlet hedgenettle (Stachys coccinea), but I don't know for sure. I sure did enjoy wondering about it as it grew taller and those tantalizing buds started to form, and I sure enjoy it now, when dusk turns it to embers beside gaura's bright sparks.
Nothing teaches you how to set priorities, to see what's important and what isn't, like weeds. They're not all the same, you know. Some are goats heads—noxious irritants, with few redeeming features. They are the kinds of things grandfathers warn children about, and that no one makes the mistake of growing twice (or even once, because they've been warned). You rip them up as soon as you see them, because otherwise you'll be ripping up a lot—painfully.
Then again, some weeds are wild lettuces—harmless enough, but not worth wasting resources on. You don't need to rush to pull them, but you sure don't need to bother mulching them, either. The only price you'll pay for them is a little embarrassment, so why stress about the wild lettuces in your life? (Unless Grandpa's coming over, of course.) And some... Well, some are happy accidents, aren't they? Scarlet hedgenettles that you would never discover if you didn't let a few weeds grow now and then, if you didn't allow a little room for surprise. As long as the weeds you let grow aren't goats heads.
We all know better than that!