Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..
Dear Readers, seldom have I been so delighted to stumble across a Wednesday Weed than on this very drizzly Monday morning. I was meeting my friend A for a walk, but before we set off she took me to her garden to have a look at this plant. It had started off, innocently enough, in the cracks between some paving stones, but was advancing across her lawn with joyous abandon. I knew that one of its names was ‘mother of thousands’ (not to be confused with the succulent of the same name) but other than that the plant was a mystery , so I was pleased to find that it has a variety of vernacular names. The one that most British people seem to know it by is mind-your-own-business, with the alternative names of ‘angel’s tears’ and ‘baby’s tears’ probably referring to the tiny circular leaves (and the tears of gardeners as they try to get it out of their lawns without destroying the grass). It is also known as ‘the Corsican curse’, because this is where the botanist Joseph-Francois Soleirol first found it, though the plant is native to the whole of the northern Mediterranean region.
To look at, you might think that Mind-your-own-business is the terrestrial version of duckweed, but no. The plant is a member of the nettle (Urticaceae) family, surprisingly, and it is commonest in southern England and Ireland. It likes shady, damp places, such as the soil under shrubs or between the cracks in walls, and it is often found in churchyards, though in some places it can even grow semi-submerged as a bog plant. It is also a popular plant for vivariums (where reptiles and amphibians are kept) and you can buy it as a house plant too – it is especially fond of the humid atmosphere of bathrooms and kitchens. It was introduced to cultivation in the UK in 1905, and was living in the wild by 1917.
One reason for the epic spreading ability of mind-your-own-business is that the plant roots at the nodes on the stem, as well as spreading by seed. The flowers are tiny, and each plant produces both male and female flowers, so is capable of self-pollination if all else fails. It is defined as one of the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘thugs’ because of the difficulty of eradicating it once it gets its roots under the table. For those of you who would like to try, the link for what to do is here. Read it and weep.I have looked in vain for mentions of the edible and medicinal qualities of this plant, but it seems that no one has yet discovered any. However, I rather admire its ability to grow where nothing else will, and feel that maybe this is a feature rather than a bug. I think it looks rather pretty under a tree, dotted with cyclamen.
Or how about creating a giant’s head and covering it in mind-your-own-business, as here in the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall?Or maybe just create a cobblestone wall for it to thrive in?
For such a tiny plant, mind-your-own-business has an unexpectedly ambitious and tenacious nature. It grows where few other plants can survive, and, like mosses and liverworts, provides an additional habitat for tiny insects and other invertebrates. Having no lawn, I am tempted to plant it myself! Maybe I have a friend who could dig some up for me…
Photo One – Male Flowers: by Tico Bassie (https://www.flickr.com/photos/tico_bassie/3668761387)
Photo Two – Female Flowers: ©2011 Dean Wm. Taylor, Ph.D. This image has a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) license. If you have questions, contact Dr. Dean Wm. Taylor deanwmtaylor[AT]gmail.com.
Photo Three: ‘Lawn’ and cyclamen: Doc Chewbacca on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/st3f4n/1094758917)
Photo Four: Giant’s Head: By Rob Young from United Kingdom (Giant’s Head / The Lost Gardens of Heligan) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Five: Cobblestone Wall: by Tico Bassie (https://www.flickr.com/photos/tico_bassie/3669569282)
All other photos copyright Vivienne Palmer. Free to use and share non-commercially, but please attribute and link back to the blog, thank you!