Ground Ivy by Any Other Name

Invasion can be beautiful

I was hanging out down below the bluffs, waiting on a load of wood from Jason, our local draft-horse woodsman, to bring us a load of tree-trunks. I noticed, in the planted pines that remain from the ignored “tree farm” of the early 90s and a previous owner, that the understory was covered in a particularly upright version of a very common ground cover whose names include Ground Ivy (which I have always used), Gill Over The Ground, Catsfoot, Field Balm and Creeping Charlie–among others.

It is found across the US (except in the Rockies), though as I suspected but did not know until I checked it out, it is an invasive from Europe and SE Asia.

Wikipedia notes some uses of the plant:

While often thought of as a weed because of its propensity for spreading, Glechoma has culinary and medicinal uses which were the cause of its being imported to America by early European settlers. The fresh herb can be rinsed and steeped in hot water to create an herbal tea which is rich in vitamin C.

Glechoma was also widely used by the Saxons in brewing beer as flavoring, clarification, and preservative, before the introduction of hops for these purposes; thus the brewing-related names, Alehoof, Tunhoof, and Gill-over-the-ground.

Glechoma has been used in the cheese making process as a substitute for animal rennet.

The fact that this trailing mint roots at the nodes makes it an especially obnoxious weed along and under our garden fence, where I want it gone, but will NOT use herbicides. I’m thinking scalding salt water might work instead.

It was interesting that one of the first things Jason noted when he arrived with our wood was how pervasive garlic mustard had become down Goose Creek. He remarked:

“When I first came to Floyd County, there were no invasives, except a few Tree of Heaven. Now look at it!”

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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. I want to express my appreciation for your posts about the flora and fauna in these mountains. They are wonderfully informative, and add a exciting dimension to exploration of this region. I hope you will consider publishing a “Biota of the Blue Ridge” book.

  2. Yvonne, the thought has occurred to me. Seems so many would enjoy and benefit from knowing far more than they do about the creatures just out their door. This blog series represents some draft thoughts towards such a project, but the color images present a problem of cost I will have to overcome, and the book would not succeed, I think, without them.

  3. Fred: True, the color images make identification possible…far more so than illustrations. Still, I hope to one day be able to purchase multiple copies of “Biota of the Blue Ridge” by author Fred First.

  4. What’s not to like about Ground Ivy? It’s beautiful, it grows abundantly without our fussing over it, and it smells wonderful when we cut it with the lawn mower. I also read in Hannah Holmes’s wonderful book, Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn, that molting crows will roll in it, because it has both analgesic and antiseptic qualities that soothe the crows’ irritated skin.

    I just learned about your blog through your interview at Nature Blog Network and I look forward to reading more. My home base is way up north in New York, in the “Almost Adirondacks,” and I keep a blog about all the wonders around me, including those that grow in the cracks in the sidewalk and sprawl across lawns uninvited. Do come visit.

  5. Gill over the Ground, as we call it in the north (and other places I’m sure) can be found well into Quebec. It’s one of those plants that can survive harsh heat and cold, cold winters. Around here it enjoys fertile soils, making it a terrific invader of gardens. As you say, it is used in medicinal remedies and makes an interesting tea.

  6. I tend to let Creeping Charlie be except where it’s really interfering with something I want to grow. I find it a lot easier to remove than some weeds, so I just leave it for a ground cover until I want the space. I like the blooms too. There are several “weeds” I don’t always weed out of the garden, including wild mustard, dandelion, plantain, lamb’s quarters, chick week, purslane and creeping charlie. I never weed or feed the lawn, I mow it and rake up the clippings sometimes for the garden. The lawn gets more beautiful every year all by itself and when I mow less often I get the benefit of wildflowers. The native blue grass is seeding right now, it’s one of my favorites so I’ll be sure to let the grass go for a while. I can go on about weeds……perfectly good plants that someone has decided don’t belong where they are growing. Yes, the non-natives can be invasive but perhaps we can find ways to utilize their qualities.

  7. So that’s what that is… we visited our farm in Kentucky a couple of weeks ago and while mowing the grass I noticed this little plant growing bountifully in many areas. Thanks for the ID!

  8. One of my favorite quotes, and I have no idea if this can be attributed to someone else, but I use it anyway: ‘One man’s weed is another man’s flower…or vice versa’ Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have a lot of garlic mustard growing in my yard under some shade trees where practically nothing else grows. I was going to remove it through numerous methods, but after seeing how little I could actually grow there if I did remove it, I’d wind up with a slope with nothing to root the soil in place and probably have a worse condition. So, I think I’ll leave it be, keep it mowed, and grow my grass where I can, and if this stuff shows up in my actual flower beds, kill it or pull it ASAP. With so many open spaces near our house, we’ll probably always have an issue with weeds…so I’m just going to try and keep them out of a few select areas and not hassle with the others unless it becomes overly problematic. Even poison ivy looks great in the fall.

  9. My issue w garlic mustard is that is out-competes native plants for roadside space, is invading deep forest as well, and is unsavory to deer, etc and alters soil chemistry. I’d rather have a field of bee balm, black eyed susans, chrysamthemums, geraniums or most anything than garlic mustard. However, at this point, it seems it has already won and resistance is futile. Kudzu has a lovely flower. I give up!

  10. The deserts of the southwest are being seriously invaded with a mustard whose seeds were imported on the root balls of date palms from the North African desert. It isn’t called garlic mustard; I recall something like Morracan mustard. The various conservation groups are out there handpulling it in the prime wildflower viewing areas of state parks like Anza Borrego. Very frustrating, and it looks like a hopeless battle.

  11. I may have to visit later in April than I did this past April – no telling what kind of botanical wonders will reveal themselves to me. I do recognize the leaf of the Ground Ivy, though I’ve not seen the flowers. Any suggestions for a book that includes drawings and other identifying features of perennials, like the book on native trees published by the Virginia Department of Forestry? I’ve found that book to be very useful, if I remember to take it along with me!!