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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Fucking Pansies!

Next time someone tries to tell you that queer and trans folks have taken our identities too far, give them a botany lesson. Plants are SO queer, y’all.

Before we get into all the very exciting sexualities that plants have, let’s talk about their sexy parts. If you’ve ever taken a 6th grade science class, you’ve probably learned about the “male” and “female” parts of plants. Since we’ve all come to recognize that there’s nothing inherently “male” about sperm or “female” about eggs, it’s about time for a vocab rehab. I’m excited about all the trans and queer plant-lovers out there who are rethinking ways that we can talk about and learn from plants. Today, I’m going to talk about “stamens” and “pistils,” and I can’t wait to see what we come up with in the future.

With that in mind, let’s hop in the Magic School Bus and learn all about plants’ bits.

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In plants, we usually call sperm “pollen.” That’s right allergy sufferers: sperm is the cause of all your springtime snot. The part of the plant that produces pollen is called the stamen. Stamens consist of two parts: the filament and the anther. The anther is covered in pollen and the filament is the thin strand that supports the anther.

Plants have eggs that, when fertilized, mature into seeds. The part of the plants that produces seeds is called the pistil. Pistils are made up of the stigma, style, ovary, and egg. In humans, ovaries produce eggs while uteruses incubate fertilized eggs that grow into fetuses. In plants, the ovary both produces the egg and is the enclosure where seeds grow. The stigma is the sticky landing pad where pollen collects. The style is the tube that connects the stigma and ovary. When pollen lands on the stigma, it grows a tail through the style so that it can deposit its genetic material in the egg.

The plant world has a gorgeously diverse combination of pistils and stamens. The names can get really long, but if you divide the parts up by their etymological roots, you’ll know what’s going on. To make it easier to read, I’m going to put dashes into long words.

Flowers can be either bi-sexual or uni-sexual.

  • Bisexual flowers have both stamens and pistils. Bisexual flowers are also called perfect — let’s hear it for the perfect bisexuals — mono-clinous (monos = one, cline = bed), andro-gynous, herm-aphrodite or syno-ecious (syn = together, ecious = house). Famous bisexuals include Lily (Aldrin) and Rose(a Diaz).
  • Unisexual flowers have only stamens or only pistils. These flowers are also called imperfect, di-clinous (di = two, cline = bed), or incomplete. Watermelons are unisexual.

A species can have bisexual flowers, unisexual flowers, or both! We group them depending on whether these flowers live together on one plant or separately on different plants.

The zucchini flowers facing up are staminate and the flowers facing down are pistillate.

Monoecious (monos = one, oikos = house) species have some flowers with only stamens or some flowers with only pistils, but all the flowers live on the same plant. Corn and zucchini are both monoecious.

  • Flowers with only pistils are called pistillate.
  • Flowers with only stamens are called staminate.
  • Some plants have both bisexual and unisexual flowers on the same plant.
    • Gyno-mono-ecious plants have pistillate flowers and bisexual flowers, but not staminate flowers.
    • Andro-mono-ecious plants have staminate flowers and bisexual flowers, but not pistillate flowers.
    • Poly-gamo-mono-ecious plants (also called andro-gyno-mono-ecious, poly-gamous, tri-mono-ecious plants) have staminate flowers, pistillate flowers, AND bisexual flowers all on the same plant.

Some plants fall somewhere between monoecious and dioecious. They’re called subdioecious or polygamodioecious.

  • A sub-gyno-ecious plant has mostly pistillate flowers, but some staminate or bisexual flowers on one plant.
  • A sub-andro-ecious has mostly staminate flowers, but some pistillate or bisexual flowers on one plant.

A staminate pistachio tree

A pistillate pistachio tree






Dioecious (di – two, oikos = house) species have flowers with stamens on separate plants from flowers with pistils. Holly and pistacho are dioecious, which is why you only get berries and nuts when you have a pollen-producing and an egg-producing plant near each other.

  • A gyno-ecious plant has only pistillate flowers.
  • An andro-ecious plant has only staminate flowers.
  • Some species have both bisexual and unisexual flowers, but on different plants.
    • A gyno-dio-ecious plant has pistillate flowers on one plant, bisexual flowers on another plant, and no staminate flowers. Wild beets are gynodioecious.
    • An andro-dio-ecious plant has staminate flowers on one plant, bisexual flowers on another plant, and no pistillate flowers. Japanese ash is androdioecious.
    • A tri-oecious plant has bisexual, pistillate, and staminate flowers on different plants.

Plants have one more trick up their sleeves. They can change from pollen-producing to seed-producing over time in a process called dichogamy (dikho = apart, gamy = marriage).

  • Proto-gynous plants produce eggs first before producing pollen. In pearl millet and avocados, the pistil matures first.
  • Prot-androus plants produce pollen first before producing seeds. In corn and many members of the carrot family, the stamen matures first.

In The Weeds: White Snakeroot

“Weeds are flowers too,” said Eeyore, “once you get to know them.”

A few weekends ago, my boo, Isa, and I went on a walk in Prospect Park. She’s an avid birder (is there any other kind?) and I love plants more than cheese, new shoes, and lots of other Very Good Things. It was my first time in the park in the fall and I was amazed that even in October, there were fat, speckled berries on the trees and a rainbow of flowers along every path.

Although birders keep lists for big days (Isa’s that day had a pin warbler, a dark-eyed junco, a clark’s nutcracker, and 9 others), most plant people want more. We like to know where a plant comes from, how people have used it, how it grows, where it got its name, and at least three fun facts to foist on a friend who never asked us to identify it in the first place.

All of which is a long way of saying that it’s high time for a weekly series where we learn everything we can about weeds. I’m starting with intrigue; this weed’s story is a heady mixture of animal husbandry, deadly contagion and, of course, a good dose of misogyny and white supremacy.

As we walked through Prospect Park, every trail seemed to be bordered with clumps of small, white flowers. I identified them as white snakeroot, but didn’t think much of the nondescript blooms until we left the woods. The same white flowers were peeking from under every tree on Isa’s street and had even colonized a pot on her front stoop. Suddenly, like pumpkin-spice in October, white snakeroot was everywhere.

White snakeroot grows in shady, wet places.

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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

Things I Learned In Summer Herbalism Class

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been taking herbalism classes at the Neighborhood Farm Initiative’s urban farm in Washington, D.C. I got to talk to other plant nerds, ate all kinds of weeds, and learned LOADS. I loved it so much that I’m already planning to sneak back down to D.C. in October to get my season’s worth of herbal info in the autumn classes.

Things I Learned In Summer Herbalism Class

This one is fennel. You might have eaten it as a spice or had the bulb as a vegetable. It’s a member of the carrot family and can help stimulate the production of breast milk. Fascinating, right?

Since it’s summer (and, as everyone in New York reminded me before I can here: summers in D.C. are brutal. (although I hate to burst your collective bubbles, NYC people, but here in D.C. we have air conditioning and trees and sky which makes summertime nine-hundred percent more bearable)), we talked about and touched and smelled and ate cooling herbs – the little guys that help with heat-related ailments like sunburn, bug bites, agitation, nerves, and insomnia. The classes were taught by Holly Poole-Kavana, an herbalist who, in my book, is the perfect balance of woo and evidence-based practices.

This plant is called cheeses. Yep, just like the dairy product. It's got little pods that look (but don't taste) a lot like cheese wheels. It's related to marshmallow, okra, and hibiscus and can help with dry eyes, mouth, and skin.

This plant is called cheeses. Yep, just like the dairy product. It’s got little pods that look (but don’t taste) a lot like cheese wheels. It’s related to marshmallow, okra, and hibiscus and can help with dry eyes, mouth, and skin.

How much is there really to say about plants? Ohmylord, SO MUCH. I took notes and I know that I still missed gobs. Here are my six favorite things that I learned.

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Container Gardening

In an ideal world, you’d get to climb a tree every once in a while, but it’s be real here: the most nature a lot of us get to experience is that (terrifying) tiny spider that crawls across the ceiling above our bed at night. Even those of us who live in the greyest of cities haven’t totally managed to escape romanticizing nature, though; we look forward to blueberries in the summer and pumpkins in the fall and count down the days until crocuses finally bloom in the spring.

But Christmas trees (real or otherwise) don’t have to be the only plants you invite into your house. You can start a garden in your kitchen, bathroom or bedroom and have something living and breathing and green in your house all year long. Container gardens can be miniscule things you start in your window sill or massive jungles your cultivate on your porch. All you need is a potted plant to get started. And you really should get started; plants are damn useful things to have around. They keep your space cool, clean your air, calm you down, feed you and add something dynamic to rooms that spend most of their time empty while you’re busy whirling around working and generally being a person.
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