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Creeping Charlie and other creeps

I went out into my yard this evening to check on my old nemesis, Creeping Charlie. Charlie, as usual, was looking very robust and healthy, absolutely verdant in a sea of wilting and tired lawn grass. If it weren't for Charlie, that lawn would look like a weary crop of off-green fatigue.

What is it about weeds anyway? How is it that weeds can flourish, grow out of rocks, grow where there is nothing to grow from, grow despite discouragement, grow despite the most vicious chemical bombardment, grow despite the hoe, the sickle and the plow?

Minnesota and North Dakota have most wanted lists of public enemies, terrorist flora they call invasive and noxious weeds, some you know well and some you've never heard of. Here are a few of the nastiest of the lot: garlic mustard, Canada thistle, bull thistle, three cornered jack, devil's thorn, leafy spurge (possibly the top weed on the most wanted list), giant hogweed, African boxthorn, purple loosestrife (tall, beautiful and deadly), Russian knapweed, catclaw mimosa, jointed prickly pear, itchgrass, sow thistle and poison ivy (poison ivy attacks me every year -- no part of my body is out of bounds). All are listed as "prohibited" meaning either cut them down or you can be fined. These outlaws are so vicious that the dandelion and creeping charlie don't even make the list.

If you ever saw the purple loosestrife in bloom, you'd want some in your flower garden. But don't even think about it. They'd attack the other flowers like the Russian army rolling over Poland.

So what's the point? I think we may be missing a message Mother Nature has been trying to deliver to us ever since the third day of creation (that was the day God said "let there be plants"). And the message is this -- look carefully at weeds and discover the source of their tenacity and gritty toughness. If you can unlock those secrets you can do miracles.

Let me illustrate. We know that scurvy is a disease that results from a lack of vitamin C and is characterized by scurf or scabs and that sailors ate limes to prevent scurvy. That's why British sailors were called "Limeys".

Now we'll take it a step further. I have read that chemicals produced by the periwinkle plant help prevent cancer cell division. The periwinkle plant is a trailing evergreen herb with solitary blue or white flowers. So here's the leap: if an innocent lime can help prevent scurvy and a gentle periwinkle plant can help prevent cancer cell division, just imagine the hidden power and determination in a noxious weed like a Canadian thistle, a devil's thorn or a leafy spurge. It could be like the power in an atom.

Plant science goes on in every agricultural school in the country. Everybody can't be studying crops like corn, durham, soybeans, sugar beets, cotton and flax. Why not some in-depth research and studies into what unknown ingredients make noxious weeds so bullet proof and so noxious. Pluck a weed found growing out of a rock and put some medical research money into tapping into those formidable juices flowing through its stems. Those juices may have the power to heal. Those weeds could become cash crops.

If I had a thimble full of scientific talent (which I don't), I'd be babysitting some nasty weeds in a laboratory somewhere and trying to coax them into sharing some of their life saving secrets. It's gonna happen. When you read about leafy spurge injections remember where you read it first.