In The Weeds: Gallant Soldier

The difference between a weed and a flower is judgment. Or maybe just attention. Who – other than the gardeners who spend hours uprooting them – really thinks about weeds? Weeds are tenacious growers, always looking for new ways to survive where they’re not wanted. Although most are unassuming, they always carry rich histories and often have potent properties. Learning about these overlooked plants can teach us about spontaneity, endurance, and healing. Every two weeks, I’ll find out everything I can about a local (to wherever I am at the time) weed that’s in season so that we can become better acquainted with one of our quiet but powerful neighbors.

Context is everything. In Colombia, guascas are an essential ingredient in a chicken and potato stew called ajiaco. In the U.S., gallant soldiers are organic gardeners’ worst nightmare. No matter what you call them, Galinsoga parviflora are probably the cutest members of the daisy family.

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Decoding Botanical Language


Reproductive flower parts

  • Stamen – the sperm or pollen producing parts of a flower
    • Pollen – sperm that travels to other plants on insects, animals, and air
    • Filament – the thin strand that supports the anther
    • Anther – the pollen-producers
  • Pistil – the egg or seed producing parts of a flower
    • Stigma – the sticky landing pad for pollen
    • Style – the tube that pollen grows a tail down
    • Ovary – the enclosure where seeds grow
    • Ovule – an egg that grows into a seed

Flower sexuality

  • Bisexual / Perfect / Monoclinous (one bed) / Hermaphrodite / Androgynous / Synoecious (together house) – a flower with both stamens and pistils
  • Unisexual / Imperfect / Diclinous (two beds) / Incomplete / – a flower with only stamens or only pistils
    • Monecious (one house) – a single plant contains some flowers with only pistils or some flowers with only stamens.
      • Pistillate – flowers with only seed-producing parts
      • Staminate – flowers with only pollen-producing parts
    • Species with both bisexual and unisexual flowers on the same plant
      • Andromonoecious – a plant with both staminate flowers and bisexual flowers, but no pistillate flowers
      • Gynomonoecious – a plant with both pistillate flowers and bisexual flowers, but no staminate flowers
      • Androgynomonoecious / Polygamous / Polygamomonoecious / Trimonoecious / Triecious – A single plant that has staminate flowers, pistillate flowers, and bisexual flowers
    • Polygamodioecious / Subdioecious – Species that have mostly pistillate or mostly staminate flowers, but some other types
      • Subgynoecious – a species with mostly pistillate flowers, but some staminate or bisexual flowers on one plant
      • Subandroecious – a species with mostly staminate flowers, but some pistillate or bisexual flowers on one plant
    • Dioecious (two houses) – the flowers with stamens are on separate plants from the flowers with pistils
      • Androecious – a plant with only staminate flowers
      • Gynoecious – a plant with only pistillate flowers
      • Species with both bisexual and unisexual flowers, but on different plants
        • Androdioecious – staminate flowers are on separate plants from bisexual flowers
        • Gynodioecious – pistillate flowers are on separate plants from bisexual flowers
        • Trioecious – bisexual, pistillate, and staminate flowers are on different plants
    • Dichogamous – a plant or flower with sexes that develop at different times. The flowers may be bisexual or unisexual.
      • Protandrous – a plant or flower with staminate parts developing pistillate seed parts
      • Protogynous – a plant or flower with pistillate parts developing before staminate parts

Seedless reproduction


The perianth is the group of sepals and petals. When the sepals and petals are undifferentiated, they’re call tepals.

Sepals are modified leaves that protects the flower before it blooms. The outermost group of sepals is called the calyx. Petals are modified leaves that attract pollinators and protect the flower’s reproductive parts. The group of petals is called the corolla.

Bracts are modified leaves that usually appear just below a flower. A series of bracts is called an epicalyx. A flower can connect directly to a stem — sessile flowers — or can be attached with a Pedicle.

A group of flowers on a single stem is called an inflorescence. Sometimes, what appears to be a single flower is really a group of tiny flowers. This “flower” is called a composite flower and is common in the aster family, which includes daisies, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers. The center of the flower is really made up of hundred of tiny, tubular, reproductive flowers called disk flowers. The petals are flat, long, non-reproductive petals called ray flowers

Flowers can be characterized by them symmetry. Flowers like daisies that are symmetrical no matter where you draw a line have radial symmetry. Flowers like lavender that are symmetric only along one line have bilateral symmetry.



  • Blade / Lamina – the widest part of the leaf and what we usually think of as the leaf.
    • Simple – a leaf made of single leaf blade or leaflet.
    • Compound – a leaf made of multiple blades. The main stem of a compound leaf is called a rachi. The multiple blades are called pinnules.
      • Palmately compound – a compound leaf with blades radiating from one point.
      • Pinnately compound – a compound leaf with two rows of blades coming from a central axis.
      • Doubly compound – the leaflets are arranged along a secondary vein, which is one of several veins branching off the middle vein. The leaflets are called pinna.
  • Vein – a tube that brings water, nutrients, and water to the plant
    • Venation pattern
      • Reticulated – veins form a network
      • Parallel – veins don’t intersect
      • Dichotomous – veins branch symmetrically in pairs
      • Palmate – veins diverge from a single point
      • Pinnate – veins are opposite across the midrib
    • Midrib – the vein that runs down the center of the leaf. In leaflets, it’s called a midvein.
  • Margin – the edge of the leaf blade
    • Entire – the margin is smooth
    • Toothed – the margin has points

    • Lobed – the leaf has an indentation or indentations that go less than halfway to the leaf’s midrib
    • Parted – the leaf has an indentation or indentations that go more than halfway to the leaf’s midrib
  • Petiole – the stalk that attaches the leaf to the stem. A plant with no petiole is called sessile.
    • Stipule – an outgrowth at the base of the petiole


  • Phyllotaxy – the arrangement of leaves on a stem
    • Opposite – two leaves come from the same node on opposite sides of the stem

    • Alternate
    • Whorl – three or more leaves come from the same node
    • Spiral


  • Deciduous – leaves fall after the growing season
  • Evergreen – leaves are retained throughout the year, sometimes for several years
  • Fugacious – leaves last for only a short time
  • Marcescent / Persistent – dead leaves, calyx, or petals don’t fall off


  • Node – the point where a stem, leaf, or flower comes off a stem
  • Internode – the space between two nodes


  • Primary – the first root to emerge from the seed as it germinates
  • Secondary – roots forming off of the primary root; often called branch roots
  • Fibrous – roots that are thread-like and tough
  • Fleshy – roots that are thick and soft, normally made up of storage tissue
  • Tuberous – roots that are thick and soft and are typically thick and round
  • Taproot – a primary root that grows downward into the soil
  • Root Hairs – very small roots, often one cell wide
  • Root crown – the place where the roots and stem meet
  • Adventitious – roots that form from a plant part other than the root, usually from the stem or from leaves
  • Aerial – roots growing in the air


  • Herbaceous – plants with green, soft parts above the ground. They die back in harsh weather and may regrow again in the spring.

  • Woody – plants that produce wood as their structure. They are typically perennial.

  • Monocots
  • Dicots

Life cycle

  • Annual – plants that live, reproduce, and die in one growing season
  • Biannual – plants that need two growing seasons to complete their life cycle, normally completing vegetative growth the first year and flowering the second year
  • Perennial – a plant that lives longer than two years

The History of Soap

Many many years ago, there was a mountain near Rome called Mount Sapo. In honor of the goddess Athena, the people from neighboring towns would carry goats and sheep to the top of the hill and burn them atop a sacrificial fire. As the animal fat melted and mixed with the alkaline ash, soap formed and was later carried to the stream below by rain. The women in the towns did their laundry in this stream, finding that their clothes got cleaner at Mount Sapo than anywhere else.
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