Weed? What weed?

Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) – in Canada, a weed; in Europe, a fairly respectable wildflower. I also happen to be rather fond of the fairy-ring flowers of narrow-leaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata). Photographed on Toronto’s Leslie Street Spit.

Many common North American weeds are aliens that piggybacked here accidentally with agricultural settlers. An interesting timeline in this report on Invasive Alien Plants in Canada suggests that roughly half of those known to have been imported arrived between 1800 and 1900.

The two pictured above were likely among them. Neither are among the villains listed by Ontario’s Invading Species (click through to acquaint yourself with the honest-to-badness bad guys). In fact, young plantain leaves are so edible, they’re sometimes considered healthful weeds.

Take care eating or picking viper’s bugloss. Its stems are exceedingly prickly, as you can see in these fascinating shots on Microscopy-UK. Some sources report that Echium leaves can be toxic, so never eat anything you’re unsure of. According to this blog, though, you can eat the pretty blue flowers.

In the broad borders of Powerscourt House and Gardens in Wicklow, Ireland, the bees were having a field day in our native Canada goldenrod (Solidago). And could those be the dark brown spires of curly dock (Rumex crispus)?

One gardener’s weed is another’s ornamental beauty.
Solidago is proof that you’re never a hero in your own country – the
plant we Canadians often take for granted is seen as a useful late-summer garden flower
in Europe. Of course, when your borders are this wide and this long, you’d have room for a few, er, expansive plants. And a few strapping gardeners to weed them.


  1. I couldn't agree more. Especially Echium vulgare where the blue is almost in league with Geranium rozanne. Thanks for posting the report on Invasive Alien Plants in Canada. Looking forward to checking that out.

    1. Jennifer, you're quite welcome. I learned about the prickles the hard way when I was a dreamy kid who loved to pick bouquets of wildflowers. Ouch.

  2. That is a whole lotta border in the last shot! Ahem… where are the strapping gardeners? ;o) One mans weed is another mans…. I don't know but it sounded good to start. Love the bright blue flowers but if they show up in my salad I may not eat it. Looking forward to meeting you at the Fling!

    1. Tammy, I spent a very pleasant few minutes talking to one of the strapping gardeners about bees. He was delightful, and I wish I could have wrapped him up and brought him back to Canada for one of my daughters. See you soon in Portland.

  3. After living in the country for years in Ontario, I am very familiar with all of the above! It's true, the above are not extremely invasive and useless weeds but can take over a field quickly if left alone. I had fields full of goldenrod, thistle, curly dock, burdock, and others, all battling for supremacy. I think I have to give the winning ribbon to the Canada thistle. Once a patch gets going, nothing competes with it.

    I found the burdock to be the most inconvenient. If you have any animals at all, you will too. The burrs have to be cut out of animal hair and stick solidly to even the shortest. I have had to remove it from doggie lips and noses and eyes. It's horrible!

    The plantain can completely replace the grass but is that a bad thing?

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