2010-05-06 / News

The bishop has got to go

Flotsam and Jetsam
By Donna Drago

I have always liked aggressive plants – the kind that muscle out their weaker neighbors over time to form an impressive patch. I have acquired many of these types of plants because I always enjoy finding them in new and expanded locations; plus, most of them are beautiful and make me happy.

Evening primrose, with cheerful shiny yellow blossoms in June, is one of these. I also love anything in the loosestrife family – especially the quirky-looking goose-necked variety. Then, there is lamium. How could you dislike such a pretty little pink blossom running wildly across the yard?

A few years ago, I accepted a plant dug from a friend’s wooded lot. It was a lovely perennial that lasted a couple of years and then faded away, but I am still reminded of the plant every day when I look out the window to see the more than 100-square-foot patch of bishop’s weed that came along with it. I have decided that there is no more aggressive or invasive plant that I know of than bishop’s weed.

This plant is also called goutweed. I looked it up in my edition of Culpepper’s Color Herbal and found that it was used historically to cure gout and aching joints. The herbal suggests putting a packet of boiled leaves directly on an aching hip. Okay, so it’s useful. I still plan to get rid of it.

This week.

I stuck a hoe into the patch to see what I am up against. Imagine 100 square feet of ramen noodles curling themselves around the roots of everything in the area. The roots travel both horizontally and vertically – unlike primrose, which has shallow roots that can be pulled up by hand and easily tossed away, or given to a friend who also wants to see a bright swath of yellow every June morning.

This is not going to be an easy job.

I have been looking at gardening blogs and forums on the Internet to see what others have done with this insidious stuff. When you read the methods folks have tried to eradicate the bishop’s weed, it sounds like people are planning terrorist activities – they are truly angry and geared up for a massacre.

One woman said she wanted to “pour gas over the whole thing and light it ablaze.” But, she lamented, outdoor fires are not permitted in her neighborhood.

Others are getting out the weed whackers to “mow it down,” then they will get out the Roundup to “finish it off.”

When it comes to bishop’s weed, the talk is all fighting words.

Amazingly, many garden shops and catalogs actually sell this stuff. The descriptions make it sound like the perfect plant for certain spots. The price is only $5.49 for a 4-inch pot, which makes it sound like an affordable solution for areas of dry shade. At that price, with more than 100 square feet of the stuff, I should dig it up and sell it. If I got nine plants out of each square foot, that would be 900 plants at $5.49 each – for a total of more than $4,940.

I could take a very nice vacation for that.

But, I am a good person and would not sell something that invasive to even my worst enemy. These nurseries should be ashamed of themselves for trying to sweet-talk buyers with descriptions like this: “Invaluable for dry shade. The variegated green and white foliage helps light up the shady corners of your yard.”

They go on to suggest ways to increase its vigor: “Just run the lawn mower over it and water it deeply to encourage fresh new growth,” the catalog suggests.

Let me be the one to tell you not to buy this plant.

I repeat: Do not buy bishop’s weed, or goutweed or anything with the Latin name aegopodium podagraria.

It has an amazing number of names – almost like it’s on the lam and has to keep changing identities to avoid being discovered. Other names it has been called include Herb Gerard, Bishop’s Wort, Bishop’s Elder, Dog Elder, Dwarf Elder, Ground Elder, Goat’s Foot, Goatweed, Farmer’s Plague, Garden Plague, Ground Ash, Pot-Ash, White Ash, Jack Jumpabout, English Masterwort, Wild Masterwort, Pigweed, Eltroot, Cummin Seed, Cummin Royal, Herb William and Bull-Wort.

The moral of this story is: If you happen to see a lovely perennial growing in a friend’s yard, be sure to look around the base of the plant and pick out anything that looks different.

Just Google “bishop’s weed” for more information and plenty of photos.

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