Extravagance of Weeds: Velvet Leaf

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This is how easily I am enthralled:

Yesterday I had a little “assignment” to be at Riverstone Farm at 8 a.m. to shoot photos of the SustainFloyd refrigerated truck as it was loaded with local produce for delivery to Floyd County Schools.

This regular routine is part of the Farm to School project supported by a USDA grant obtained by SustainFloyd two years ago. And I do have the requisite shots of the truck loading on a very somber overcast day with no-so-great lighting. And that, for another time perhaps.

But I got there early and was kicking around the edges of the planted fields waiting for the delivery person to arrive in the truck. In particular, I was wandering down the margin of what had been the asparagus plot that is bigger than our front and back yard combined.

As you know perhaps, asparagus is an early spring plant, so the tops of the surviving spears had quite gone to “ferns”–the wispy spreading tops that gather the light and turn sunshine and CO2 into next year’s tender spears.

Honestly, it was a bit hard to see the asparagus for all the weeds that had exploded in the patch. And I’m  talking weeds of amazing height and vigor, growing in that heavily mulched soil. They musta thought they’d died and gone to heaven–Lamb’s Quarters six feet tall, amaranth the same, both with heavy heads and spikes of tiny seeds. I’m guessing this patch will be plowed under since I cannot imagine successfully pulling weeds out by the roots without doing excessive damage to the asparagus.

I quite enjoyed myself exploring the random volunteers that had snuck into the vegetative order of things. But wait: what is this odd-looking star-fruited seven-foot-tall thing that is perhaps the most common of all the asparagus weeds?

Well you see it here. I had to discover its identity because frankly I did not know it.

The genus us Abutilon. The common name is Velvet Leaf. You can read about it–an edible invasive cultivated and consumed in China some 3000 years ago.

And so as I expected, my horizons were broadened botanically, so the trip across the county was somewhat self-serving after all.


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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Fred, thanks for bringing our attention to an intricate, beautiful “weed.” We usually don’t take the time to notice these wondrous creations, because they are wild and not of our own hybridizing…and that’s sad.