Sunday, July 17, 2011

Spiny Pigweed: The Name says It All About This Filthy Weed

As I've gotten older & wiser, I've also become a firm believer that there is a purpose and reason for the existence of virtually every living thing on this earth. Everything is designed to work in unison as part of this large diverse eco-system.

But then came spiny pigweed, also known as spiny amaranth.
When this ugly, spiny, fast-growing, even faster spreading, invasive weed started showing up all around my garden this year -- I obviously wanted to know more about it from a weed control standpoint. But I also was driven to find out what its purpose was here on this earth.

Well, believe it or not, this plant is being utilized today throughout the world to treat numerous medical conditions. I'll get more into that later in this post. But first, let's take a closer look at spiny pigweed.

What is this weed?

Spiny Pigweed is native to America and is frequently found in bare ground areas of pastures where the ground is compacted, but can also be found in agricultural garden areas. This may explain why this weed primarily shows up in my manure-laden vegetable garden in-between rows where I tend to walk more often and compact the dirt (but it does also show up between and around my plants as well).
Growing fast, spiny pigweed should be removed as it first appears. It is important to identify and eliminate this 'annual' early during the growing season. If allowed to go to seed early, it has a tendency to spread like a plague & grow all over the garden. If not removed, it quickly grows to several feet or more in height, and produces 100,000 or more seeds per plant (seeds mature about 4 weeks after flowering). These seeds will continuously germinate throughout the summer months, spreading like wildfire with each successive rainfall. Furthermore, they tolerate drought extremely well.

Unfortunately I was not aggressive enough with spiny pigweed early-on this season, partly due to lack of education about the plant. Now I'm stuck spotting & removing these weeds on a daily basis, adding to all the other obligations in maintaining a fairly large garden. Next year I will know better.

Removing Spiny Pigweed

This nasty looking weed cannot be pulled out of the ground with your hand (even when using gloves), as it features numerous 5-10 mm thorny spines, capable of penetrating the toughest leather. You must use an appropriate tool to effectively dig the roots out of the ground.

Removing spiny pigweed is especially troublesome when it grows right next to your "good" vegetation. If this occurs you can either attempt a risky operation to remove the weed (possibly damaging the roots of your good plant), or just allow the weed to share the space while continuously cutting it back near ground level.

After removal from the ground, spiny pigweed must be bagged and removed from the garden premises to prevent existing seeds from scattering.
Closeup of stem

If your garden methods are organic, your options to control this weed are minimal. Vinegar, at 15 to 20% concentration (regular household vinegar is usually about 5%) may be effective, but care & further research should be undertaken to make sure the vinegar does not harm your 'good' plants or soil. All spiny pigweed plants should be removed before flowering & seeding.

The good news is that spiny pigweed is not a perennial. However, if they're invading your garden this growing season, their scattered seeds will likely result in another visit next year. Early prevention in 2012 will be your best defense.

Herbicides can be used to kill existing spiny pigweed plants, but should be applied early in growth stage -- preferably at 2 inches in height or less, but certainly under 8 inches. At this stage of growth, success rate can be as high as 80-90%. Atrazine, Dopont Upbeet, Glyphosate, Gramoxone, Dicamba (among others) may be effective herbicides. If you wish to attack and kill spiny pigweed before they emerge from the ground, Oryzalin, Trifluralin or Pendimenthalin may be your best bets.

For a detailed overview of helpful herbicides, click here, or read this PDF document.
Flowering end of branch where some of the plants over 100,000 seeds eventually form.
Medicinal benefits. Yes there appear to be many.

Though not anywhere near renowned as, say, Echinacea for it's ability to prevent or cure illnesses, spiny pigweed is used in many parts of the world (mostly in Asian & African countries) to treat numerous medical conditions, including:
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Vaginal discharges
  • Excess menstrual bleeding
  • Bloody noses
  • Wounds
  • Internal bleeding
  • Diarrhea
  • Snake Bites
  • Fevers
  • Dysentery
  • Urinary conditions
  • Gonorrhea
  • Eczema
  • Colic
  • Menorrhagia
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Earache
  • Inducing abortion
  • Burns
  • Boils
  • Ophthalmia
  • as a diuretic
Closeup of spiny pigweed leaf, usually 1-2" in length.
Edible, if you so desire

The good news is that spiny pigweed is not poisonous to humans (though it is toxic to many animals) & can be safely consumed. In addition, it has extremely high nutritional value, and can be fried, cooked or steamed. The seed can also be ground into healthy flour.

Now the bad news. This plant is popularly known as famine food. Though eaten regularly in a few suspect third world countries, its bitter & otherwise less desirable taste (along with its many spines) makes this plant a food of "last resort" in most worldwide locations. It's primarily only used when other vegetables become unavailable, such as in times of drought (it's a fairly drought tolerant plant).

Still, if you're ever lost in the woods or wilderness and come across this plant -- it can help keep you alive.

Other uses

Dyes. Ash from the plant has been used in Cambodia to create grey colored dye for cloth. Green & yellow dyes are also reported to be made from parts of the whole plant.

Final words

This may be the longest non-scientific piece written on this horrific weed ... well, someone had to do it! Consider yourself educated.

After reading and researching this piece I now have a new found respect for spiny pigweed. It does have "some" purpose, but I still loathe it anywhere in my yard.

*DISCLAIMER: Before using any information contained in this blog entry, you are advised to do your own due diligence & research on the topic and/or consult with a qualified expert or professional.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this article! This weed invaded my garden (and now my yard) this year and I HATE it! It is everywhere. It took me a very long time to find out what it was, and your article helped immensely. Thank you for the advice. I will be on top of it next year!