Plant identification: eat it, nurture it, or kill it with fire?
August 7, 2010 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Please help me identify the plants - flowers, weeds, veggies, herbs - in the garden of the house we just bought. There are several plants that I don't recognize, so I'd really appreciate any clues you might have!

My husband and I bought a house in Chicago a little while ago, and the previous owners liked to garden a lot. The backyard is full of all kinds of flowers and vegetables. But they didn't label anything and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of organization in the beds. Add to that a busy schedule for the past month during the height of the growing season, and the garden is also being overtaken by weeds. While eventually we will probably rip a lot of it out (it's poorly laid out for our needs), we'd like to know what a lot of the plants are so we can figure out what to eat, what to save, and what to get rid of.

I've loosely categorized what needs to be identified but it is possible or even likely that I mis-categorized a flower as a veggie or vice-versa. I also apologize for the bad photography and that the plants are all very close together so it's pretty impossible to get a shot of *just* the plant in question.

Category 1. Weed or plant? There are a couple things that look pretty weedy and have gotten quite huge, so we need to know if these are something to save or get rid of.

Weed or plant 1a

Weed or plant 1b
Weed or plant 1c

Weed or plant 2

Weed or plant 3

Weed or plant 4

Category 2: Should I eat it? The previous owners grew lots of food (we are overloaded with chard, lettuce, garlic, parsley and tomatoes) but it's hard to tell what is edible and what isn't.
Little sprout-y looking things 1
Little sprout-y looking things 2

Long beans 1

Long beans 2
Long beans 3


Category 3: Flowers, ground cover, shrubs

Puff balls
Little flowers
7 toothy leaflets
Butterflies love these
Giant shrub and giant shrub closeup
This is pretty but is everywhere and seems to be quite invasive I think via runners or roots. It is even growing out of cracks in concrete. Here it is growing out of the side of our house. We may need tips on how to contain this one, since the main plant seems to belong to our neighbor. There will be a 6ft wood fence between us and the neighbor in the future.

posted by misskaz to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
little sprout-y looking thing is purslane I think. If milky sap comes out of the stem then its something else. Purslane is a weed, but its edible raw or cooked as a green. I have a ton of it in my garden. I don't know if its annual or perennial.
posted by hollyanderbody at 3:35 PM on August 7, 2010

I am pretty sure your puff balls are giant alliums. We have these in the garden and this is what they look like in the end stages. They are perennials so they will come back every year. They're really pretty in the spring.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:38 PM on August 7, 2010

All of the weed of plant things look like weeds.
The little sprouty things are purslane, which is a weed but also edible.
The long beans are types of green beans and all edible, as is the cabbage.

Not sure about the first of your category 3 plants. The giant shrub looks like a lilac bush.
posted by pluckysparrow at 3:43 PM on August 7, 2010

First plant looks like lamb's quarters to me. Also known as quelites in New Mexico, or wild spinach. Another edible weed.
posted by pickypicky at 3:45 PM on August 7, 2010

#1 is a weed. I don't know about 2-4.

Little-sprout-looking things are probably purslane like hollyanderbody said, and yeah it grows like a weed. It can't make it through frost, but it might be perennial in your area if you have warm winters.

Those long beans are in fact beans, but they look a little overgrown. They will probably be tough if you try to eat them as green beans but you can leave them on the vine and pick the beans out after the plant dries. Then, just boil them like you would store-bought beans.

The cabbage looks like cabbage but I can't tell for sure.
posted by wayland at 3:48 PM on August 7, 2010

"Butterflies love these" are called Cosmos.
posted by pickypicky at 3:49 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Puff balls are allium. Little flowers are weeds, or at least, I consider them weeds here in my garden. Mums are mums. The ones butterflies love are cosmos, they're an annual but they'll happily self seed everywhere.

The giant shrub looks like a Philadelphus, a mock-orange.

The one that looks invasive seems to me to be self-seeded garden balsam.
posted by lydhre at 3:51 PM on August 7, 2010

Plant #2 looks like a lettuce that has bolted. Hollyanderbody is right about the sprouty things, they are purslane.
posted by pickypicky at 3:53 PM on August 7, 2010

I agree with plucky sparrow on everything except the large shrub. It has small, beautiful smelling, white flowers in late spring. We call it mock orange at our house but I'm not positive it's the correct name.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:53 PM on August 7, 2010

The "pretty but is everywhere and seems to be quite invasive" looks to me like oleander.

If so, it is poisonous. (We had it in my backyard when I was a kid, and were firmly told never to touch it, pick it, or play with it because of the poisonous sap.)

Wikipedia claims "Oleander is one of the most poisonous of commonly grown garden plants, and can be very toxic if ingested in sufficient quantity."
posted by Year of meteors at 3:56 PM on August 7, 2010

It's definitely not oleander, Year of meteors.
posted by lydhre at 4:06 PM on August 7, 2010

I haven't looked at the pics and will do that as soon as I post—but I wanted to refer you to a resource you might find helpful: the Plant File at Dave's Garden. (Scroll down and you'll see a link for advanced search by plant characteristics.) You have to register to use the site but it's free and they really do not sell their info or spam. There's probably a forum specifically for Chicago gardeners.

Now on to the pics!
posted by dogrose at 4:15 PM on August 7, 2010

Is your "Weed or plant" plant growing leaves in groups of three? I ask because it looks quite a bit like the poison oak that I asked about on a previous AskMefi. If they're in clusters of three, treat it very respectfully.
posted by Addlepated at 4:25 PM on August 7, 2010

Plant 1: Probably lambs quarters, like pickypicky said. I don't like to eat it so for me it's a weed.
Plant 2: Looks weedy to me. The leaves are dandelionish but the plant is too tall. Unless there's some lanky variety grown for market.
Plant 3: No idea.
Plant 4: No idea.
Sprouty: Yep, it's purslane. The stuff sold at the greenmarket comes from plants bred for bigger leaves but as far as I know the common or garden variety is equally edible.
Beans: Overgrown green beans. Follow wayland's advice.
Cabbage: Yes.
Puff balls: Definitely allium, part of the onion family.
Tiny flowers: This grows in my community garden and some people think it's a weed and others like its looks. I have no idea what it's called; we all refer to it by the teeny pinky flowers.
Mums: Yes.
Toothy leaves: No idea.
Butterflies: Looks like sturdy late-summer cosmos. (Not all varieties get that big.)
Hedge: Privet? When it blooms next spring, you'll know a lot more.
Pretty & invasive: Definitely not oleander, though the flowers and leaf shape are very similar.

Most of these are annuals though they spread their seed so promiscuously they can seem like perennials.

If your neighbor's a gardener and was on good terms with the previous owners, he/she should be able to help out with the ID.

Congrats on the new home and enjoy the garden!
posted by dogrose at 4:46 PM on August 7, 2010

Crack open a pod of those long beans and see if you have cowpeas/black eyed peas in there. Those long beans look a lot like black eyed peas to me.
posted by hecho de la basura at 5:24 PM on August 7, 2010

Pretty/invasive is Impatiens or Garden Balsam as lydhre said. Just yank it out, or pinch off seed pods before they split. It's an annual and won't come back without seeds.

Giant shrub is Philadelphus. I cut them to the ground in fall so that they send up soft new foliage.

Alliums- yes
Purslane- yes
Cosmos- yes

tiny flower- I know this plant, but can't conjure the name at the moment. You can treat it as a weed or flower as desired.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:09 PM on August 7, 2010

Little flowers is "smartweed", or Polygonum pensylvanicum.
"Toothy leaflets" looks like some kind of cinquefoil, even though it has seven leaflets.
The "giant shrub" may be a Calycanthus floridus, but I think lydhre is right in saying some kind of Philadelphus.
posted by Red Loop at 6:13 PM on August 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all so much! I knew AskMe would come through big-time on this question. Unfortunately, the neighbor doesn't speak much English so asking her isn't really an option. And we've had some encounters with her that make us think she has a very different understanding of neighbor boundaries than we do - i.e., eating the veggies from our garden and hanging her laundry on our laundry line. We're trying to keep interaction with her to a minimum until we get the fence up. She seems to be pretty unfriendly unless she wants something from us anyway.
posted by misskaz at 6:13 PM on August 7, 2010

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