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MSU Extension Service

Home Grown is an educational, entertaining, question-answer column seen weekly in "News from the Genesee MSUE Office," a weekly newsletter for Genesee County Master Gardeners. Special thanks to the Genesee, Oakland and Livingston county MSU Extension offices for providing this service.

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HOME GROWN 324

I was reading in the paper about some awful weed called Hogweed and how it is so dangerous. I have a plant that could be it. It is about five feet tall and has red stems; green leaves and has clusters of purple berries hanging down. I know that Hogweed looks a bit different, but is this close enough?

There is no trophy awarded for finding a plant and "close" wouldn't be good enough if there was. The plant that you are describing isn't even remotely close. Your plant is called Poke Weed, a cute native plant. Poke Weed is a perennial, so it dies to the ground each fall. It is anywhere from three to nine feet tall with smooth reddish stems and green pointed leaves that are lance shaped. White small flowers along and unbranched flower stems will become dark purple berries that have red juice. The plant is poisonous if you eat it. The fleshy roots are the most poisonous. But if like most people, you view your landscape and not eat it; Poke Weed can be a nice addition. Now, place your Comparing Hat on your head and listen to the description of Giant Hogweed. The plant will be 12 feet to 15 feet tall. It has stems that are hollow, ridged and two to four inches in diameter. The stems are green with purple blotches. They are covered with coarse white hairs that are especially prominent around the base of the leaf stalks. The white flowers are flat-topped umbels that grow in clusters. Queen Ann's Lace is also an umbel but tiny. The Hogweed umbels can be over two feet across. Leaves are lobed, deeply incised and up To five feet across. The fruits that contain the seeds will form in the flower area. They are dry, oval and are about three-eights of an inch long. They are tan with brown lines. The danger from Hogweed is the sap or juice in the plant. When it gets on your skin and your skin is exposed 
to sunlight, your skin will develop painful burning blisters. Red skin blotches eventually turn into purplish or brown scars that last for years. If the sap gets in your eyes, it can blind you. Hogweed plants could be found growing in moist soils. Or seeds could be given to you by a nitwit gardening pal. A few plants have been found in Oakland, Jackson and Ingham counties in this region. Close enough isn't good enough when trying to identify Hogweed.

I have my first flower garden. I grew some dahlias this year but I think that I was told that they aren't going to live after this year. They were so pretty. Do I buy more or can I do something to save these?

The one word you need to know is: Dig. These are tubers that cannot handle frozen ground. Wait until the first big killing frost. Cut the plants off about six inches from the ground. Dig the tubers up and brush off soil. Put the tubers somewhere to dry that they won't freeze. Get as much dried soil off the tubers before storage as possible. You can trim the stem a bit lower but don't cut it too close to the tuber. If this area get damaged and isn't completely dry, the tuber can rot. Tubers must be stored where the temperature will not go below freezing. It would be great if you had an area that would be around fifty degrees. Find the coolest spot in your house. Put the tubers into dry vermiculite or dry Canadian peat moss or sphagnum peat moss. Don't use Michigan peat because it isn't really peat. It's decomposed sedge grass that can be alkaline. The peat mosses especially help to prevent rots because they are acidic. Any of those materials will help prevent dehydration of the tubers. Store in a dark, cool dry area.

Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture
Agent 517/546-3950

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