Plant of the Week: Aegopodium podagraria 'Varietatum'; Goutweed, Bishop’s Weed
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Each week since 1997, Dr. Gerald Klingaman has offered readers a unique window as he chronicles of the social history of plants.
"What always interested me was the background of the plants and how they got there and the people involved in bringing them forward," he said.
Klingaman, a retired extension horticulturist who is now operations director for the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks in Fayetteville, Arkansas, has created is a library of hundreds of plant histories that run in newspapers across the state and have become a favorite of gardeners in Arkansas and beyond. We hope you'll enjoy our extensive archive of his works and return each week to see what's new.
Gardening – and by extension, gardeners – is a gentle art, but boy are they ever opinionated. I often check comments on Dave’s Garden on the web to get a sense of how the garden community feels about specific plants. Did I ever get set straight when I checked the plant for this week, goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegatum’).
Goutweed, also called Bishop’s weed or even snow-on-the-mountain, is an herbaceous perennial belonging to the carrot family that is native to western Europe. It emerges in early spring from a spreading, stinky underground root system that spreads widely in good soil.
The broad-margined white-variegated, coarsely toothed leaves are two or three times divided and triangular in outline with individual leaflets two to three inches long. Out of flower, plants grow about ten inches tall, but when they bloom in late spring and early summer the whitish, queen-anne’s-lace like flowers top out at about two feet. Though not unattractive, the flowers are of secondary interest to the foliage effects.
Variegated goutweed is not common in Arkansas gardens but I sometimes see it around older homes where it has survived with little or no care for years. I don’t recall ever seeing it offered in local nurseries, though the variegated form is readily available from mail-order sources and probably spread as a pass-along plant during bygone days. I find no information on when or where the variegated form arose, but it seems to be the only form of the plant intentionally grown.
Because of its nature of preferring moist woodland habitats, goutweed has always been more common and more problematic as a garden plant in northern states than here in the South. The first mention I find of the plant in the United States is in 1859 when it is listed as rare, but sometimes escaping. In 1900, Bailey describes it as common in yards and as “a variegated form of (an) European weed.” About that same time the New York City park’s department was said to have spent thousands or dollars eradicating it from city flowerbeds.
But, a century later, variegated goutweed is still grown even though most mail-order sources caution about the possibility of it moving into unwanted areas. If polls mean anything, and that is a big if, 60% of the gardeners (sample size 43 over the past decade) writing comments on Dave’s Garden website loathe – as in really hate – the plant, while only 21% like it. The rest can’t decide. By means of comparison, the evergreen groundcover Vinca minor, a plant with similar creeping characteristics as goutweed, had a 66% approval rating and only 14% negative views. Interestingly, as gardening trends seem to be moving towards natives-only gardening, most of the negative votes against vinca came in the past few years.
I must admit to having no success getting it to establish on my dry, shady hillside here in northern Arkansas. But, if I had a rich, moist, shaded garden soil I would think long and hard before I planted something as potentially aggressive as goutweed. Perhaps a location between the walk and the north side of the house where only spindly weeds grow or a shaded space that can be confined by mowing would be good locations to consider growing goutweed. It should never be planted in a mixed border planting, instead used where it can have full run of the space where it is to grow. Plants are hardy from zones 3 through 8.
From what I have seen, the variegated form seems to be very stable and does not commonly revert to the more aggressive green form. Seed production is rare, but can occur, and it is possible that reports of green reversion are escaped seedlings. This can be avoided by mowing the plant back just after flowering to assure no seeds are produced.
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Extension News - Sept. 14, 2018