Plant ID - Am I growing nettles?
April 15, 2020 4:53 PM   Subscribe

Several of my garden containers are growing the same kind of plant (weed?) but before I chop them down I'd like to identify them. I think they may be nettles. I am in the San Francisco Bay area.

1. What kind of plant is this - nettle or something else?

2. If it is a nettle, can I eat it? Wikipedia says I can eat new leaves. I do not trust my foraging/plant identification skills. The leaves look similar to those in a salad I frequently order but I don't think nettle is eaten raw.

3. If it is a nettle, will it be just a big annoying weed? I'd rather save my pots for tomatoes but I like to provide plants that are good for birds and insects. My garden attracts hummingbirds, other tiny little birds, and insect pollinators so I'm open to growing something that supports them.
posted by shoesietart to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
From nettle descriptions, they have toothed leaves borne opposite. Your plant looks like it has three leaves or leaflets borne on alternate stems. Also nettle has stinging hairs on leaves and stems which should be easy to test (cautiously?). In any case nettle is not native so if you want something for local wildlife look for a local plant.
posted by Botanizer at 5:13 PM on April 15, 2020

My first impression is either blackberry plants or raspberry plants. I planted one (singular) blackberry cane in the corner of my yard several years ago and now have a small army of these sprouting canes in my lawn.
posted by fancyoats at 5:27 PM on April 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

It doesn’t look right for a nettle to me (source: grew up where nettles are native). They certainly do have one leaf on the main stem, not groups. If anything it looks more like a bramble (blackberry, as previously stated). Probably not productive to keep it if that’s accurate.

Nettles are edible when cooked, by the way. (Not that I know anyone who has actually eaten them.) You know, once you find an actual nettle...
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 5:32 PM on April 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Definitely not nettles.
Possibly an astilbe but hard to tell from your photo.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:38 PM on April 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think it's a blackberry and should be burned with fire.
posted by fiercekitten at 5:49 PM on April 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Definitely not nettles. And I'm not sure they're all the same thing. The first two look different to me than the last one. The leaves on that one really look like a raspberry or blackberry to me and it looks like it has little thorns, too, which pretty much confirms it. Do the other ones have thorns? I don't see any, and the leaves look different.
posted by Redstart at 6:23 PM on April 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Not a nettle, every trait is wrong except for toothed margin.
Likely one of the cane berries but many look the same unless you key it or have a known reference for comparison.

It’s in a pot already so no reason to fear it, I’d let it ride for a few weeks personally, if only bc killing it now and starting something new seems difficult and you’re between planting periods.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:24 PM on April 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think it's an astilbe.
posted by humboldt32 at 6:57 PM on April 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I also think blackberry / raspberry.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 7:01 PM on April 15, 2020

It looks like wild blackberries to me which are invasive in the area and difficult to remove once established. As mentioned earlier, remove and burn.
posted by eleslie at 6:03 AM on April 16, 2020

It can’t be blackberry can it? No thorns.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:12 AM on April 16, 2020

Here is a guide for identifying raspberries.

And blackberries.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:34 AM on April 16, 2020

Nettles are a member of the mint family and have square stems.This video shows some identification tips.
posted by 445supermag at 8:01 AM on April 16, 2020

Update: I added additional photos that include closeups of the stems.

I was convinced last night that it was astilbe. The plants came up in two waterlogged pots that were just sitting with soil from last year's garden. Wikipedia mentions that astilbe like moist soil and the leaves looked the same. (It's quite a pretty plant when blooming!)

This morning, I've added some additional photos and I think it may be a bramble. The two pots look like the same plant to me but one definitely has thorns/spikes. I wonder if redstar was correct and they're different plants? However, like I said, the leaves look identical to me. The one with the thorns is smaller and younger.

I thought it was nettles initially because of the stinging hair-like thingies, which didn't show up well in the pictures I initially posted.
posted by shoesietart at 8:04 AM on April 16, 2020

I also now think there's a good chance there are different plants fwiw. The leaves of the one with thorns don't have quite the same serration pattern to the margin, and the ones without thorns have a waxier leaf, and upon reviewing the new photos I think they are not a bramble berry, and the one with thorns is. I also forgot they are considered a pest in your area, but really that ship has sailed and keeping a few in pots will provide berry food for humans and birds, leaf food for caterpillars, and nectar food for all sorts of things.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:49 AM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yep, you've definitely got two different plants there. The smaller one with thorns is a Rubus (raspberry or blackberry - I'm leaning towards raspberry.) The other one does seem like it could be an astilbe, but I'm not sure.

There's not much point trying to grow raspberries unless you can give them more room. A pot that size won't be big enough for even a single plant and a single plant won't give you enough berries to be worthwhile. But you should be able to keep an astilbe in a pot.
posted by Redstart at 9:29 AM on April 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

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