Calystegia sepium in pink. Panoramic Images/Getty Images
Identifying Common Types of Weeds
Illustration: Nusha Ashjaee © The Spruce, 2018
Use these weed pictures to aid you in your identification of some common types of weeds. Once you’ve identified nuisance plants, you can more readily access information on eradication. In some cases, however, finding out more about the plants in question may persuade you to show more tolerance toward them. There are even some edible weeds. The pictures are supplemented by links to additional resources that will help you figure out:
- Which ones it would be worth your time to remove versus which ones don’t cause much harm (and may even have beneficial aspects).
- How best to go about removing them (in the case of the nuisance plants that you decide must go).
You’ve heard the saying, “Leaves of three, let them be!” This image of the plant in spring illustrates the point. To see images of this menace at all its various stages of growth, see the gallery of poison ivy pictures.
This photo offers an example of what poison ivy looks like while it is still young. Even at this stage, the division of the leaf into three leaflets is readily apparent.
Help With Identification Picture of poison sumac leaves. David Beaulieu
Here’s what poison sumac looks like. Study the leaf structure.
Note that poison sumac is a large shrub that grows in swamps. You will not find it trailing over the ground or climbing trees, as you sometimes find poison ivy.
Fleece Flower Plants
Toshihiko Watanabe/Sebun Photo/amana images/Getty Images
“Godzilla weed” is my own personal nickname for Polygonum cuspidatum, which goes by several other common names, including “fleece flower” or “fleeceflower”.
The most widely used common name for this weed is “Japanese knotweed.” Several other common names include the term, “bamboo,” such as “Mexican bamboo.” My nickname may never catch on with the general public, but anyone who has had to battle this weed knows that my “Godzilla weed” appellation is justified! “Fleece flower” is perhaps one of the plant’s most unfortunate common names. For while its autumn flower does, indeed, look fleecy (click the following link for a photo:), “fleece flower” is just too dainty a name for so tenacious a weed!
Crabgrass Seed Head
Joshua McCullough/Getty Images
Do you see this seed head in your lawn in late summer? That’s crabgrass.
And you have a battle on your hands next year. Being an annual weed, crabgrass perpetuates itself via seed — millions of seeds. Once the flowers you see here produce their end product, your primary option will be to use a lawn-care product in spring that prevents germination.
Dandelion Seed Head
Jeny/Pixabay/CC By 0
The seed heads of dandelions are probably better known than those of crabgrass.
But dandelions are perennial, not annual weeds. Keeping dandelion seeds from germinating won’t be enough to get rid of dandelions.
Plantago lanceolata in bloom. Iain Sarjeant/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images
A rather innocuous plant, common plantain (Plantago major) can simply be mowed whenever you mow the lawn. Its relative, Plantago lanceolata is a similar weed, but with narrow leaves.
Of course, this will be unacceptable to the lawn fanatic, who must have a perfectly manicured lawn. But others may find such a policy helpful in their attempts to achieve low-maintenance landscaping.
Now a ubiquitous lawn weed in North America, broadleaf or “common” plantain was brought to the New World by colonists from Europe for its medicinal uses. In his great book to identify weeds, Peter Del Tredici (Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast, p. 252) states that Native Americans called it “‘the white man’s footprint’ because it grew where the Europeans cleared the land.” Common plantain’s medicinal qualities are too numerous to elaborate here, but one of them is something that the average homeowner might well make use of:
If you have been stung by a bee, try crushing the leaves of common plantain by rolling them roughly between the palms of your hands to release the juice, then applying the pulp to a bee sting. Many report relief from doing so. Note, however, that if you suffer from bee sting allergy, you should follow proper medical advice to treat the bee sting.
But the utility of this herb extends beyond the realm of medicine. Common plantain plants are edible. Harvest the leaves while they are young, preferably. At this stage, they can be used in salads, as you would lettuce. You’ll probably want to cook older leaves, which tend to be too tough to eat raw.
For those who say phooey to all that and just wish to learn about common plantain control, Colleen Vanderlinden, our Organic Gardening Guide, writes, “The only surefire way to get rid of plantains is to dig them up, getting all of the root out.” But because it is green and stays short, it’s rather unobtrusive, as lawn weeds go. In out-of-the-way problem areas where you have trouble establishing grass (due to shade or compacted soil), consider allowing common plantain to stay if it’s already present. It will blend in fairly well with whatever grass is present (it is, after all, totally green) and will tolerate heavy foot traffic. Consider it a volunteer ground cover that you don’t have to put any time or energy into maintaining.
This photo shows what a leaflet of common ragweed looks like.
Common ragweed may be an important weed for you to identify, even if you don’t care about keeping your yard weed-free for aesthetic reasons. Why? Because if you’re an allergy sufferer, you should be aware that common ragweed is a major source of hay fever.
Melissa McMasters/Flickr/CC By 2.0
Common ragweed has a “big brother”.
It’s not for nothing that this plant is named, “giant ragweed”. It can reach heights taller than the average person! I present additional pictures of ragweed (both kinds) for a more in-depth look at this noxious plant, including what the flowers look like.
Calystegia sepium in white. P. Bonduel/Getty Images
Hedge bindweed has a fairly attractive bloom, which can be white or pink. But this is no innocuous weed.
If you let hedge bindweed get out of control, your yard will feel like Gulliver in Lilliput. There is a reason for that “bind” in “bindweed.”
Melissa McMasters/Flickr/CC By 2.0
Ground ivy is a common lawn weed.
Ground ivy goes by a number of names. For instance, it is also called “gill,” “gill-over-the-ground” and “creeping charlie.” Although considered a “weed,” I’d much rather have creeping charlie in my lawn than, say, crabgrass. Ground ivy has a pretty flower and when you mow this weed, it gives off a pleasing aroma.
Forest and Kim Starr/Flickr/CC By 2.0
Purslane is the edible weed, par excellence.
No, purslane (Portulaca olearacea) isn’t yet another of those leafy “rabbit-foods” that only an Ewell Gibbons could love. Purslane is more than merely edible landscaping — it is a culinary delight!
Stinging Nettle Plants
The flowers of stinging nettle plants are inconspicuous.
You’ll pay plenty of attention to its barbs, however, if you’re unfortunate enough to brush against stinging nettle! The discomfort these weeds can cause seems incongruous with the fact that stinging nettle is edible. But the young leaves of stinging nettle are, indeed, cooked and eaten by wild foods enthusiasts.
Curly Dock Photo
A Distinctive Weed Photo of the curled leaves of “curly dock.”. David Beaulieu
Once you’ve identified certain weeds, you never forget them, so distinctive are their features.
Curly dock (also called “curled dock” or “yellow dock”) is one such weed. If you have stinging nettle around, Rumex crispus is more than just distinctive, it’s also useful: curly dock serves as a home remedy to treat stinging nettle burns.
Dinesh Valke/Flickr/CC By 2.0
Wild madder is, like sweet woodruff, in the Galium genus. Wild madder is also called “bedstraw”.
Apparently, people did actually once use this weed as a bedding material.
Four Leaf Clovers and Shamrocks Photo of red clover leaf. David Beaulieu
While many consider clover a “weed,” there’s really nothing wrong with having a little clover mixed into your lawn.
The Irish consider various tripartite clover leaves (such as the one in the photo here) to be “shamrocks.” As I relate in my article on shamrocks and four-leaf clovers, the tradition behind the shamrock is quite distinct from that behind four-leaf clovers.
Paul Lucas/Flickr/CC By 2.0
Like curly dock, orange jewelweed (or “jewel weed”) can be used as a home remedy — for poison ivy.
The taxonomic name of orange jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, classifies it as a wild version of the colorful impatiens flowers sold so widely for shady annual beds.
Liz West/ Flickr/CC By 2.0
There are three plants named, “bittersweet”.
American bittersweet is harmless, but Oriental bittersweet (shown here) should be regarded as a weed since it can harm your trees. The third type of weed that goes by this name (“bittersweet nightshade”) is one of our most poisonous plants.
The “Weedy” Horsetail Equisetum arvense is the “weedy” horsetail. David Beaulieu
There’s more than one kind of “horsetail”.
Which is yet another example of why the common names for plants aren’t as clear as their corresponding scientific plant names. The horsetail in the picture above is referred to by botanists as Equisetum arvense. It’s a thoroughly weedy-looking plant that will spread out of control if given a chance — even in dry soil.
Equisetum hyemale, by contrast, is a more useful horsetail plant to the landscaper. It is an architectural plant that can be employed as an accent around water features. If given moist soil, it, too, will spread, so I suggest potting it up for use around water features, so that you’ll have firm control over it.
By David Beaulieu