Flowering Weeds - Both Pretty and Useful

by AngelaJohnson

People often spray herbicides to get rid of all weeds. But killing certain weeds and wildflowers might destroy a food source for butterflies, bees, or birds.

Although some weeds are considered invasive, others have medical uses, provide animal habitat, and can be eaten by both humans and livestock. That's why it's important to identify plants first before deciding to get rid of them.

I enjoy driving in rural areas and seeing fields left in a natural state. When I see an interesting weed, I photograph it and then try to identify it. I have discovered that some weeds are really useful!

Of course, there are many more flowering weeds than what I've featured here. These are just the weeds I have photographed myself. I know I'll find more as I continue to the countryside. ~~ Burntchestnut

Honeysuckle (Lonicera) Smells So Good!

honeysuckleI love the smell of honeysuckle and I usually smell  it before I see it.  There are many types of honeysuckle, but this is the type I always see.  When I was a kid, we would pull out a flower stamen and taste the tiny drop of "honey." 

I believe this type is called Japanese honeysuckle. It's all over the place in the midwestern U.S.  I see it climbing on fences and growing along ditches and on old buildings. it can spread rapidly, so it can become invasive if it's growing in your garden.

Hummingbirds are attracted to many honeysuckle species and the leaves provide food for many types of butterfly larvae. 

Purple Ironweed (Veronia)

ironweedIronweed is a member of the Aster family.  In the U.S., it grows between 3 and 7 feet tall and has small dark purple flowers, which bloom in late summer.

Ironweed provides nectar for butterflies and bees when not many other plants are in bloom at this time of year. Small birds like finches and swallows like to eat ironweed seeds.

Ironweed is not recommended for home gardens unless you deadhead (cut the flowers off before they seed). A single plant can produce between 6,000 to 19,000 seeds, which can cause the plants to take over your garden. But ironweed is great for meadows, fields, or where you want to fill in bare areas. 

And the pretty purple color makes the fields look pretty when most weeds are turning brown.

butterfly on ironweed
butterfly on ironweed

Yellow Goldenrod - Solidago

goldenrod

Goldenrods grow in open areas like meadows, prairies, hay fields, and savannas.  

They have bright yellow blooms and are often blamed for hay fever because they bloom at the same time as ragweed. Ragweed is actually the plant that causes hay fever, but because it is green with light green blooms, so no one notices it among the goldenrod. 

Goldenrods provide nectar for bees, flies, wasps, and butterflies.  Finches, warblers, indigo buntings and other birds eat its seeds. 

And insects such as the goldenrod gall fly, live in the goldenrod stem and provides birds with a healthy meal in the cold of winter.  By leaving weeds standing in winter, you're providing food for wildlife when they need it most.

I Like to Carry a Field Guide When I Explore

Click on any title below and then search for books about plants where you live
Weeds of the Northeast

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Wild plants are not only beautiful, but they can also be an affordable and sustainable way to add flavor and nutrition to your diet. Edible Wild Plants for Beginners provides yo...

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Field Guide to the Common Weeds of Kansas

This handbook illustrates and describes the 200 kinds of common weeds found in Kansas along roadsides and in yards, gardens, and cultivated fields. Designed as a reference for t...

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Clovers (Trifolium)

cloverClovers are part of the pea (legume) family and have pink or white blooms.

They are an important ground cover.  Clover  stays green even during hot, dry spells and helps fertilize your lawn by fixing nitrogen.

A lawn full of clover smells better than a lawn that's been treated with fertilizer or herbicides, and safer for your pets and children to walk and play on.

Clover flowers attracts bees, which pollinate fruit trees and vegetables. Cover also attracts butterflies, which pollinate other blooming flowers.

Clover attracts beneficial parasitoid wasps, which help control populations of agricultural pests. (Parasitoid wasps are not the same wasps that build nests in doorways or under eaves).

Beekeepers love fields of clover, as clover is one of the main nectar sources of honeybees. 

butterfly on clover
butterfly on clover

Jimson weed (Datura stramonium)

jimson weed

Even though jimson weed produces flowers, it is NOT a beneficial weed. 

Jimson weed is part of the potato or nightshade family and all parts of the plant is poisonous.

It's also called Jamestown weed, thorn apple, downy thornapple, devil's trumpet, angel's trumpet, locoweed, mad apple and stinkweed. Jimsonweed can grow up to 5 feet tall.

I saw this plant alongside a ditch near a hay field. although it can grow in urban areas, too. Once I identified the plant, I could find no beneficial use for it. This is one plant that needs to be eradicated because eating the leaves, flowers or seeds can make animals and humans sick, and sometimes cause death.

Browsing animals usually won't eat jimson weed because of its odor and taste, but will eat it if there's nothing else available. Sometimes children will eat partially ripe seeds because of their sweet taste, or will taste the flowers.

The seeds and leaves can cause hallucinations, and adolescents (and some adults) will experiment with it. The effects from jimsonweed vary from plant to plant, depending on its growing environment, which makes it especially dangerous.

The Common Milkweed Plant (Asclepias syriaca)

milkweedThere are around 60 species of milkweed in the United States, but I've only seen the Common Milkweed plant (Asclepias syriaca)

Once common milkweed gets established, it's hard to remove it. But milkweed is a useful weed.

Besides attracting many types of butterflies and bees, the Monarch butterfly depends on the common milkweed plant. It is the ONLY type of plant monarchs will lay their eggs on. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the leaves.

This is a great plant to put in a butterfly garden. The monarch population is dwindling partly due to loss of habitat. I took photographs of milkweed both in Illinois and Tennessee and never saw a monarch butterfly. I guess the areas I was in weren't in their flight pattern.

Did you also know that humans can eat milkweed? All parts of the plants are edible, although like all new foods you'd want to try a small portion to make sure it agreed with you. Some people report eating large quantities cause them to have an upset stomach.

To learn more about the milkweed plant.

 

Common Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Substitute for Coffee and Other Uses

chicoryMany people are surprised to discover chicory is a tall weed with pale blue flowers. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) calls chicory a noxious weed, but it's often classified as an herb by other groups.

The chicory plant only produces a few flower heads at a time and each flower lasts for one day. Chicory blooms in the morning and the blossoms close up around noon when the sun is bright.

Flowers attract bees, butterflies, and flies with their nectar and pollen.

Chicory seeds are eaten by wild turkey and mice. Rabbits and deer eat the leaves and stems. 

In Europe, chicory is used in livestock feed because it is effective in ridding animals of intestinal worms.

Chicory roots are used as a coffee substitute or additive, especially in the southern part of the U.S.. The leaves can be eaten raw as a salad, and some beer brewers use chicory to add flavor to their stouts.

Queen Anne's Lace Daucus carota)

Queen Anne's LaceQueen Anne's Lace looks so pretty when it blooms in fields and along roadsides. Sometimes you see individual plants growing among other weeds and other times you see it growing in large patches.

It grows up to four feet tall with fern-like leaves and delicate-looking clusters of tiny, white flowers.  It blooms from May to October and is a biennial plant. It spends its first year growing and then blooms the second year.

Birds eat the seeds, and small songbirds perch on the flower top to sing. Queen Anne's Lace attracts close to sixty kinds of insects, including beneficial insects. Many people plant Queen Anne's Lace in their gardens to attract insect predators.

 Queen Anne's Lace is actually a wild carrot; a member of the carrot (parsley) family. The leaves look like the domestically grown carrot and the plant also smells like carrot. People can eat the taproot, but it won't be as sweet as a domestic carrot. The leaves of the plant, though, are toxic, and sometimes irritate the skin. 

 BE SURE OF YOUR IDENTIFICATION. There is a similar-looking plant called Water Hemlock, which is deadly to eat. Don't eat Queen Anne's Lace unless you have a positive identification from an expert.

 

Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Pretty Bloom but Prickly Leaves and Stems

bull thistleBull thistle is also called common thistle and spear thistle. It’s native to Europe and believed to have been brought to the eastern United States in colonial times. It’s now found in all 50 states.  It is so prickly with long sharp points all over the plant.

Hummingbirds, bees and butterfly drink the nectar. Birds such as American goldfinches and juncos eat the seeds, as well as mice and other small mammals.

Bull thistle is an invasive plant and grows in any type of disturbed area. It can grow densely and take over other vegetation.

If you see thistle growing and want to get rid of it, mow the plants down to ground level before the flower heads turn purple and produce seed. If you already have purple flower heads, cut them off and bag them so seeds can’t mature and blow free.

Grow and Preserve Native Plants

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Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

yellow yarrow

Yarrow blooms from March through September. Small white or yellow flowers cluster into dense, flat-topped flower heads at the ends of stems, similar to Queen Anne's Lace.

Yarrow is often used as a companion plant, repelling some insect pests while attracting beneficial ones, such as predatory wasps, ladybugs and hoverflies.  

The flattened clusters of tiny flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies, while many songbirds eat the seeds.

Some cavity-nesting birds such as the starling, use yarrow to line their nests. 

And yarrow's essential oil kills the larvae of the mosquito. 

 

 

 

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Updated: 10/17/2014, AngelaJohnson
 
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AngelaJohnson on 09/14/2015

blackspanielgallery and jptanabe - I love walking around outdoors and taking photographs. Later, I often have to research to find the names of some plants and what they're used for.

jptanabe on 09/14/2015

Lovely photos! I see several of these flowering plants around where I live and particularly enjoy the honeysuckle and thistles.

blackspanielgallery on 09/13/2015

It is amazing how plants considered weeds can produce beautiful flowers.

Mira on 09/13/2015

I've been wondering about Queen Anne's lace for years now. I finally know what it is. And yes, it does look like the carrot plant.
I've identified about half of these weeds here as well. It was good to read about the other ones as well (and I've learned some new things about the ones I knew, too).

AngelaJohnson on 09/13/2015

candy47 - these photos were all taken on my sister's property in east Tennesee. I have lived in southern Illinois, too, and some of them were there, too, but not all. I'm in south Texas now so I see different flowering weeds.

candy47 on 09/13/2015

Growing up in New Jersey I saw lots of clover, honeysuckle and Queen Anne's lace. I used to dye Queen Anne's with food coloring, it made a pretty bouquet. Lovely article.

MBC on 10/11/2014

Many of these "weeds" are used in Xeroscaping here in Colorado gardens. Loved your article.

AngelaJohnson on 10/11/2014

frankbeswick - we had parakeets when I was young and my mother picked some weeds to get the seeds for them to eat, The weeds looked like tall grass and had seeds all along the stems, I don't know what they was called, though.

frankbeswick on 10/11/2014

This was a very informative article. As I am in Britain some of these plants are new to me, though some are found over here. Jimson weed is one of which I had never heard.

When I had chickens I sometimes used to collect seeds from dock plants and feed them to the birds. They enjoyed them, so here is one sometimes overlooked use for prolific seeders.

CountrySunshine on 10/10/2014

These are really pretty photos! I have Hall's honeysuckle growing along my back fence. It is invasive, but a pretty plant nonetheless. The only weeds I get rid of are the thistles or ones with thorns. Any others, such as dandelion or Queen Anne's lace, I simply enjoy.


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