The Verbesina is beginning to bloom, marking the beginning of the end of summer. Commonly called wingstem or yellow ironweed, Verbesina alternifolia is an aggressive native perennial fond of moist open woodlands, fields and riverbanks. It invaded the hollow some years ago, chasing the milkweed out of the east meadow and even encroaching on the house up against the foundation. It lurked outside the windows and stained the stucco where its leaves rubbed up against it.
When I first became aware of its ubiquitous presence, I mistakenly assumed that anything capable of taking over existing plantings so quickly was non-native, an “alien invader” that I needed to battle. I made the fatal mistakes of not identifying the plant I was dealing with and assuming I could control the poison I was applying to my soil.
I began a campaign of eradication, being careful, I thought, by not spraying, but making individual cuts instead and swiping the stalks with a dab of Round-Up.
Somehow I managed to kill my only Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), the one I used to look up through to see the swallowtails supping on the mauve globes of its flowers. I did not know I had only one and that it would never come back. No other patches along the creek or in the meadow have come to replace it. It was the 0nly one I had and I eradicated it through my ignorance.
Like a many-flowered sunflower, 6-8′ tall, the Verbesina towers over me now as I walk down the meadow path, spangling the creekside and giving a golden burnish to everything. It makes me think of the Sukevine, that pernicious fecund plant that cast its pall over Cold Comfort Farm. I have learned to love it. It taught me a hard lesson.
Our tendency toward regarding unwanted plants as the enemy and using whatever means necessary to remove them increasingly disturbs me. Many “good” gardeners I know think it’s okay to unleash their hatred and desire to destroy upon plants, that it’s a good outlet for those feelings. But I believe the urge to kill everything that doesn’t suit us to be a serpent in the garden and we should be careful before we start killing things we don’t understand.