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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Jul 28

The Root of the Matter

Posted on July 28, 2017 at 11:49 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Last week I spoke of mysteries to solve in the garden and the joy of finding answers. Sometimes the answers are not so joyful!

Bindweed among the poppies
 Bindweed among the poppies
As I rooted around in the plethora of landscape/gardening books, I located the identity of the unruly vine taking over the back garden. It turned out to be field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), which is known to grow six to seven feet a year. It is a perennial, which means I may be fighting this wild thing for years to come. The naturalist in me prefers to hand pull weeds and avoid herbicides. As I began implementing this method of weed control, I unearthed the story of how this plant takes over. At the same time that it is growing at extreme lengths above ground, it is just as quickly setting down root underground. As a result, new offshoots are known to pop up as much as 30 feet away from the mother plant. 

In front of the house I found an entirely different plant that at first seemed innocuous. It had very pretty, tiny purple flowers that transformed into red berries with maturity. It also sported attractive leaves and seemed very happy in the dry shade garden. With that, I initially decided to let it stay. Some further research found that this beauty was belladonna nightshade (Atropa belladonna), known for its poisonous berries. Like bindweed, it is perennial.

Unfortunately, also like bindweed, it soon began overrunning the other plants in its vicinity. As I watched my shade-loving plants being smothered, I knew it was time to eliminate this invader. As I ripped out the woody vine, I discovered that, while the root system behaves differently than bindweed, it is still a root system to be reckoned with. For every inch of plant above ground, six inches lay below. Luckily I have that area heavily mulched and the root system came up relatively easily–another advantage to building healthy soil. Nonetheless, the outcome (no pun intended) was astonishing and unfortunately, as carefully as I pulled, some of the roots broke off, leaving me with knowledge that this invader will be back. 

The good news is removing the top growth of both of these plants is easy. The bad news is they will be a perennial challenge. 

And speaking of perennials, I will be heading to British Columbia for my yearly fly fishing expedition next week. Stay tuned as I bring some amazing pictures of some beautiful parts of this country back with me.

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