noxious weeds, poisonous plants and wildflowers

August 8, 2009

We have a neighbour who complains very much about our garden because we grow a variety of native plants like milkweed, Queen Anne’s lace, asters, goldenrod, wild columbines, rudbeckia and wild roses. We love the birds and insects that they bring and their tolerance to us never watering the garden. She is extremely concerned about “noxious weeds” like milkweed and Queen Anne’s lace because she claims they are dangerously poisonous. By the way, Queen Anne’s lace is the genetic wild relative of carrots and are not toxic in any way.

After minor research, because we have always grown milkweed and are intoxicated by its perfume and the butterflies that it brings, it became obvious that milkweed was given this unsavoury reputation a very long time ago because of cattle or sheep deaths when our neighbourhood was farmland. Milkweed is mildly poisonous if not prepared correctly. So are rhubarb, potato, monkshood, foxgloves and teems of other plants that people don’t even think twice about growing freely. In fact, you would have to eat a lot of milkweed to be poisoned by it (or become poisonous because of it as in the case of the monarch caterpillar).

Milkweed is an important part of our landscape as a source of food for butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. In fact the Monarch butterfly cannot complete its lifecycle without milkweed. It is also used medicinally for humans for various ailments. My interest peaked recently when I heard of milkweed as food from someone reading Euell Gibbons’ book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” and when I read the following line about food in an old copy of Toronto Life.

“… while I passed the time with a gorgeous slab of kingfish garnished with pungent milkweed-caper froth and a delectably inventive ratatouille of squash, lobster, mushroom and green eggplant puree.”

The important point is that a little research should be required by our neighbour before aggressively demanding that our milkweed be eradicated (and using herbicide to kill our milkweed which is a very probable but unsubstantiated claim by me). Ah, the joys of not conforming.


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