Previously I lamented that, while strolling down country lanes, I could not identify the weeds and trees and flowers before me; they all had names, I was sure, but what those names might be remained a mystery.

Warren recommended I pick up a copy of Helen Gilkey’s Handbook of Northwestern Plants. Powell’s had several used copies for under $10, and the taxonomic classification system for identifying the weeds was keen, but Kris found a book better suited to our needs: Northwest Weeds: The Ugly and Beautiful Villains of Fields, Gardens, and Roadsides.

Northwest Weeds is not nearly as comprehensive as Gilkey’s textbook, but it has the distinct advantage of having many (~250) color photographs whereas Gilkey’s book has only line drawings. The color photographs are a tremendous aid in identifying weeds.

Armed with the new book and a digital camera, I set out to identify the roadside weeds within a quarter mile radius of Custom Box Service. After a week of exploration, I’d learned a number of weeds.

The following photographs are low-quality digital images (it’s difficult to get close using a camera without a macro lens — plus my digital camera doesn’t allow me to adjust the aperture, so depth-of-field is bothersome). The text description for each plant is taken directly from Northwest Weeds.

[photo of Queen Anne's Lace]
Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), of the parsley family (aka umbels). Queen Anne’s Lace resembles the carrot, as well it should since it is the wild carrot. It is an erect biennial, up to four feet tall, with lace-like, multi-compound leaves. The plants are usually coarsely hairy. The carrot-like roots taste like their cultivated cousins but become woody, bitter and tough as the plant ages. The minute, white flowers grow in a flat-topped inflorescence, technically a compound umbel because it contains small umbels within a large umbel. The central flower is usually pinkish purple. Leaves immediately below the inflorescence are small but pinnately divided. Short bristles envelope the mature fruits. When it blooms in late summer, Queen Anne’s Lace is one of the most common and conspicuous weeds along roadsides in the Pacific Northwest. It thrives primarily in waste areas but invades meadows and pastures. It is native of Eurasia.
[photo of Himalayan Blackberry]
Himalayan Blackberry (Rubus procerus), of the rose family. Himalayan blackberry is an introduced species that has become a weed of the worst kind. [Editor’s note: I disagree; I love blackberries! Look for a discussion of “what is a weed” at the end of this page. Update: Er, I forgot to add that section; I’ll add it later.] Himalayan blackberry is a weak-stemmed shrub that may grow erect, but more frequently clambers and spreads over other plants, crushing and smothering them. Its vicious, flattened spines hold tenaciously. The leaves are palmately compound, typically with five large, oval, toothed leaflets. Even the leaf and leaflet stalks have spines. The white to pale pink flowers, about one inch across, blossom throughout the season. This Eurasian blackberry is now widespread west of the Cascades, less common in northern Idaho and northwestern Montana.
[photo of Evergreen Blackberry]
Evergreen Blackberry (Rubus laciniatus), of the rose family. Evergreen blackberry is less abundant and less aggressive than its somewhat larger cousin, but a noxious weed, nevertheless. It is distinguished from the Himalayan blackberry by the leaves, which also have five leaflets, but are sharply and irregularly incised and toothed. The fruits look much alike, but those of the evergreen blackberry are generally considered more desirable. This species is a European cultivated variety that ran wild. Its range is similar to that of the Himalayan blackberry.
[photo of Canada Thistle]
Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense), of the sunflower family. This aggressive perennial weed spreads from deep rhizomes to form dense and persistent populations. The rather thin stems are two to five feet tall and branch at the top to produce numerous inch wide heads with spiny involucral bracts. The leaves are pinnately lobed with weak spines along the margins and wooly hair on the lower surface. The plants are unisexual. Male heads produce pollen and female heads produce numerous seeds that drift on the wind. The flowers in both cases are pale lavender to deep purple, the male heads tending to be more showy. This noxious weed was introduced from Eurasia to the United States and southern Canada, where it invades fields, pastures, and various waste areas. It is difficult to eradicate, but will eventually die if kept cut back.
[photo of Bull Thistle]
Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), of the sunflower family. The bull thistle is a coarse, branched biennial, generally between two and three feet tall. The leaves are pinnately divided, the lobes spine-tipped. The spines extend downward from the leaves along prominent ridges of the stem. White woolly hair more or less covers the stems. Minute stiff hairs make the upper surface of the leaves rough to the touch. Heads are about two inches wide, and very showy with their numerous, enlarged, purple disc flowers. A vicious spine tips each overlapping, shingle-like, involucral bract. In spite of the spines, horses consider the heads a delicacy because the bases of the tubular disc flowers contain a large amount of sugary nectar. They nip the heads off, and chew them very carefully. The seeds are a choice food source for some birds, such as the goldfinch. This native of Eurasia has established itself throughout North America. Like most thistles, the seeds ride the wind beneath a parachute-like pappus, finding their way to waste areas, roadsides, fields, and pastures.
[photo of Hedge Bindweed]
Hedge Bindweed (Convolvulus sepium), of the morning-glory family. This perennial grows from rhizomes into widely branched stems that twine and climb, forming hedge-like growths over various objects or other vegetation. [Editor’s note: around Canby, the stuff just spreads like groundcover in the gravel ditches at the side of the road.] The Latin name describes its growth habit: convolvere means to twine and sepi is a fence; it twines over fences forming hedges. The leaves are shaped like arrowheads, complete with a sharp point. The showy flowers are very large, up to three inches long. The white or, occasionally, pink petals are fused and resemble a trumpet. The sepals are hidden by two large leafy bracts growing from the base of the flower. This introduced species is a difficult weed, especially in moist, waste and unkempt areas in urban centers. It also infests waterfalls and marshes, where it often smothers other plants. [Editor’s note: Maybe it’s not hedge bindweed I’ve found; my weed grows in dry places, not in moist ones.]
[photo of Prickly Lettuce]
Prickly Lettuce (Latuca serriola), of the sunflower family. [Editor’s note: This plant gave me fits! Dana suggested it might be a milkweed, for reasons that will become apparent, and I was stuck on that for a long time.] The bitter and abundant milky juice of this annual or biennial herb is responsible for the generic term Lactuca, Latin for milk. Not surprisingly, some people erroneously refer to this plant as milkweed. The plants are two to four feet tall, with leafy stems and a starchy taproot. The leaves are pinnately divided or sometimes only toothed. They calsp the stem and have ear-like lobes. Prickles cover the leaf teeth, the lower surface of the midvein, and the lower half of the stem, thus the common name. Numerous narrow heads grow on thin branches near the stem tip. The involucral bracts are very uneven in length and surround six to eighteen lemon-yellow ray flowers. The rays are about 1/3 inch long and finely toothed at the tip. The seeds are teardrop shaped but have a long thread-like crown which bears the parachute-like pappus. This European native now grows over much of North America. It is a common weed of waste places, roadsides, gardens, and cultivated fields, especially in stands of alfalfa. The parachute-like pappus enables the seeds to drift on the wind. Prickly lettuce varies toward cultivated lettuce (Lactuca sativa 
[photo of Red Clover] Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), of the pea family. This is a coarse, deep-rooted and very persistent perennial. It is regularly cultivated as a crop and often escapes into fields, pastures, and waste areas, and is common along roadsides. The rather large leaflets with pale chevrons and the large heads of red flowers identify this weed. It is a pleasant weed that was introduced from Europe for cultivation.
[photo of Crab Grass]
Crab Grass (Digitaria sanguinalis), of the grass family. This annual weed spreads horizontally, crab-like, over the ground in a near circular pattern. Each spreading stem terminates in three to five finger-like branches. The spikelets are more or less pressed against these branches. The generic term is derived from the Latin digitus, relating to this digitate or finger-like appearance. Originally native of Europe, this grass has now become a cosmopolitan weed. A closely related species of crabgrass, Digitaria ischaemum, separable only by technical characteristics, is also an introduced wide-ranging weed in North America.
[photo of Cigarette box]
Marlboro Cigarettes (Cancerus marlboros), of the cigarette family. This noxious weed can be found along the roadsides of every state in the Pacific Northwest. Though typically only butts can be found, whole cigarettes can sometimes be discovered. On rare occasions, a discarded box may be found. Though toxic when lit, cigarettes are harmless in their unlit state. Children may be allowed to collect butts from the side of the road and to emulate smoking by chomping them between their teeth. A box of collected butts can be traded for a comic book or for a particularly valuable trading card.
[photo of Wild Oats]
Wild Oats (Avena fatua), of the grass family. This wild cereal closely resembles oats but has a long twisted, bristle-like appendage (awn) borne on the back of one of the bracts, the lemma, which encloses the grain. This awn can lodge in the mouth or throat of an animal and cause infection. The awn also assists in planting the seed (grain); when it absorbs moisture, it uncoils, screwing itself and the seed into soft soil of cultivated fields. It may then lie dormant for up to 75 years [emphasis added] before germinating. The seeds are also harvested and sown with domestic grains. Wild oats is a tall (two to four foot) annual with large, widely spaced, pendulous grains. Introduced from Europe, it is now widely established in North America and is very difficult to eradicate from cultivated fields.
[photo of Pigweed]
Pigweed (aka Redroot) (Amaranthus retroflexus), of the amaranth family. Of the several species of Amaranthus that grow as weeds in the Northwest, the most widespread is pigweed. This is an erect annual, one to three feet tall, with long-stemmed, egg-shaped or lance-shaped leaves. The thick taproot is red, which the common name suggests. The minute flowers are individually surrounded by three spiny bracts and are densely clustered in several cone-shaped spikes. Thousands of flowers may grow on each plant, each producing a single seed. Pigweed is a pernicious weed of cultivated fields [Editor’s note: I’ll say! Oh, how I hated hoeing this stuff as a child], waste areas, and gardens. The spininess of the floral bracts makes it an extremely unpleasant plant to deal with, especially when the bracts are dry. The generic name, Amaranthus, refers to the rigid persistence of these bracts. Pigweed is a native of tropical America.
[photo of Jointed Charlock]
Jointed Charlock (Raphanus raphanistrum), of the mutard family. The common name of this species means jointed graceful compartment, and describes the characteristic fruit. At maturity, the fruits are about two inches long, and strongly joined between several seeds. Eventually the fruit breaks crosswise into units, each containing a single seed. The showy flowers vary in color from yellow to white, often with purplish stripes. The petals are about an inch long, including the base. This native of Eurasia has been sparingly introduced into the Northwest. It grows most frequently in moist waste areas and in cultivated fields.
[photo of Hairy Vetch]
Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa), of the pea family. This typical vetch is a weak-stemmed annual or short-lived perennial that clambers over other vegetation, using tendrils to hold itself up. Soft hairs cover the stems, leaves, and sepals. The leaves are pinnately compound with numerous narrow leaflets about 3/4 inch long. The tendrils have several long branches. The reddish-purple flowers, each slightly more than 1/2 inch long, are crowded in narrow, elongate clusters. The inch long pods are reputed to be poisonous. This attractive European transplant provides a nearly continuous display of color, commonly growing along roadsides, fence rows, and other disturbed areas.
[photo of Oxeye Daisy]
Oxeye Daisy (chrysanthemum leucanthemum), of the sunflower family. [Editor’s note: surprisingly, I could only locate this single sad flower to photograph. I don’t know where all of the daisies are hiding!] This perennial herb spreads by rhizomes. The stems are rather thing, one to two feet tall, and typically branch above to produce two or more attractive flower heads. The leaves are generally pinnately lobed or divided, the lower ones have rather long stalks, the upper ones are stalkless and clasp the stems. The heads are about two inches across have narrow bracts with brown, papery margins. The rays (fifteen to thirty per head) are pure white and the central disc flowers are yellow. This plant was probably introduced from Europe as an ornamental, then escaped cultivation to become on of our most common roadside weeds. It frequently invades fields and meadows where it competes aggressively, especially under grazing pressure, to form dense and expansive populations. The species is now widespread in the Northwest and continues to increase its range.

There are many more, of course, and I’ll add them to the list as I’m able to photograph and cross-reference them in Northwest Weeds.

Who knew weeds could be so fun?


On 27 July 2003 (08:42 AM),
Joel said:

Who hasn’t, on occasion, felt a bit like a Hairy Vetch? Weak-stemmed, short-lived, laboriously clambering over our fellow plants with limp trembling tendrils.
The preceding was written at work, shortly after I nearly destroyed a specimen.

On 27 July 2003 (09:03 AM),
Aimee said:

Side Note: JD! You’re reading Captain Blood: Bloody brilliant, arrrgh! I found that my understanding of Cromwellian and subsequent monarchies was full o’ holes at the onset of the novel. But, now as we’ve set sail on the Spanish Main, reading has been smooth waters … Let’s rap about this titan of Previously Unbeknownst to Me Literature …

The field guide to weeds – Now that’s a different story …

On 27 July 2003 (07:47 PM),
dowingba said:

We have those Cancerus Marlboros here too! Except they’re red. I looked it up, thinking it’d simply be called “red marlboros” or “poison marlboros”; but much to my dismay, they were called “Cancerus du Maurier”! There’s also a slightly rarer variety called “Cancerus Player’s Light”. Who comes up with these names?

On 28 July 2003 (05:36 AM),
Paul said:


Be careful with the blackberries! There be poison oak entwined within! I know all too well.


On 22 August 2004 (01:39 PM),
Karen said:

I have very tall, 10′-14′ weeds growing near my birdfeeder. Large leaves, 3-5 lobes each. The “flower” stems run out about 4 inches but never acutally flower. The little buds turn into stickers. Any idea what these are???

One Reply to “Roadside Weeds of Canby, Oregon”

  1. Genie Abrams says:

    Though i live on the East Coast, i loved reading all about your wonderful weeds! We have many of the same kinds here, and i too am often stricken, more frequently of late, by the impulse to learn the names of the friends i pass by on my walks or on my way to work every day.

    Keep up the good work!

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