Monday, 27 April 2015
My garden's overrun with hairy bittercress this year. It even greets us by the front door when we arrive home. How did it happen? I'm sure it's because the latest specimens are tiny and almost unnoticeable. When I find them it's almost too late. Their seeds sproing everywhere when picked, their spread is relentless.
My usual solution to this problem is to add them to our salads. They're edible, so what could be a better revenge than to eat our weeds? Sadly, the latest specimens are too small; there's as much cardboard-like seed bearing stalk as edible basal rosette. They're not enough of a tasty morsel to include in our dinner.
I fear I may have helped with this plant's natural selection. By weeding out the more noticeable, normal sized specimens, I've allowed the smaller, almost unnoticeable ones to take hold. In some cases, I only spot them when the seed heads poke their noses above the patio. You have to admire that tenacity for survival, even if it gives this gardener a bit of a headache.
I've looked to see if my observations are rooted in scientific fact, sadly to no avail as yet. However, I did find an interesting study from Clemson University, which investigated its seed production, dispersal and control in propagation beds.
In some ways it's the perfect weed. Seed production is year-round; each plant can produce thousands of seeds; germination rates are high, its explosive dispersal mechanism spreads seeds far and wide, and the seeds themselves are sticky. My admiration increased.
I was also a little daunted, but then I spotted a potential chink in the armour. The study found 90% of the seed germinates in 13 days, so if I'm like Mad-Eye Moody and employ Constant Vigilance, I have a good chance of gaining control over my garden's population.
I'm going out every evening on a bittercress hunt and I weed out any culprits I find. Each one is removed carefully, so any seed dispersal activity is minimised. I'll keep this going for a month, which allows some extra time for the other 10% to make their appearance and to round up any scattered offspring.
Wish me luck.