Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Some Barnyard Weeds
Nature Bulletin No. 308-A   May 25, 1968
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

A number of remarkable weeds are commonly found in barnyards and farmlots. All of them were brought here from the Old World and most of them are called by different names in different localities. They grow along fences, in odd corners, and even in ground closely grazed and hard-packed by the trampling feet of livestock. Some of them are also common along paths worn by human feet, and some invade our carefully tended lawns. They are the tough bad boys of the vegetable kingdom, with a supervitality and stubbornness that you have to admire even though you cuss them.

Almost every beaten path in this country has a margin of Wire Grass and it soon takes over any abandoned path. Many a barefoot youngster finds its sticky little seeds spattered around his ankles on a rainy day. The extremely tough and wiry stems are usually about 6 inches high, topped by loosely-branched heads. Few animals attempt to eat it and only a very sharp lawnmower can cut it. It is not a grass at all, but is one of the rushes, and is better named Path Rush.

Another survivor on dry hard-packed ground is Knotgrass, or Knotweed, which forms a tough spreading bluish-green mat in spite of traffic over it by people, poultry or livestock. Each plant rises from a deep-boring taproot and send s out a creeping tangle of branches -- sometimes a yard long -- covered with small oval leaves. This, too, is not a grass but is a relative of buckwheat and the smartweeds. Like them, it has "knots" on the stem where each leaf is attached. This spicy- flavored weed is relished by horses, cattle and chickens, and its seeds are eaten by small birds but it manages to survive. Like yarrow, another common weed, it is often called "Nose-bleed Weed" because the juice of its foliage will stop nosebleed. It is a drug plant used for hemorrhages and other medicinal purposes.

There are several other weeds that can take a lot of punishment on the compacted soils of paths and barnyards, including three which, like the dandelion, are pests in your front lawn: Common Plantain, Peppergrass and Shepherd's Purse. They are tough stringy plants with deep taproots. The latter two, being small members of the mustard family, have a peppery flavor but the young leaves of all three can be used in salads or as greens, and their seeds are eaten by birds. Hungry goslings gorge themselves on leaves of the plantain.

They say a hog will eat almost anything but there are a few rank hardy weeds which taste so bad that even hogs leave them alone. One is the Burdock which may grow as tall as a man and with leaves so long and broad that a half dozen shotes can snooze in the shade of a single plant. It's scores or hundreds of pink-and-white flowers are followed by burs covered with hooked spines which, when ripe, cling to and mat the tails and coats of cattle, horses and dogs. The long heavy root is packed with food and is imported from Europe as a drug to cure eczema or for other medicines. The core of the young shoots can be cooked or candied and eaten.

Dog Fennel or Wild Chamomile and the tall coarse Jimson or Jamestown Weed which grows luxuriantly in hog lots, are two plants which smell and taste so bad that neither hogs nor chickens will eat them. The odor of the Jimson is sickening. Both contain vegetable poisons used as drugs. Jimson seeds being one of the best sources of atropine -- used for dilating the pupil of the eye.

A bruised leaf, rubbed on your skin, may give you a rash and, certainly, B. O.

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