To Weed or Not to Weed

By Alee Knoell

Welcome, readers, to the first installment of our NERRd-y “Species Spotlight” series! We’re really excited to begin highlighting some of the flora and fauna found within the 74,000+ acres of protected areas of the GTM Research Reserve. Our first species comes from work done on one of our newest long-term monitoring projects: the Pellicer Creek Sentinel Site (this project has been discussed on the NERRds blog before- https://nerrdsonthewater.com/category/on-the-platform/). Part of this project is to go out and check on the plants within the marsh from the shore to the upland forest.

The Pellicer Creek sentinel site is bursting with biodiversity; within our monitoring plots alone (one meter square quadrats occurring every 10 meters from the shore to the upland) we have identified about 60 different plant species! From tiny herbs nestled in the shade of dense rushes and sedges to towering maples and myrtles, the species richness and abundance of plants in Pellicer is awe-inspiring.

Fortunately, you don’t have to trudge through the swamp and get harassed by various vines and rushes (I’m looking at you, Juncus roemerianus) to see a great deal of the amazing plants that line our monitoring transects. For example, our spotlight today shines on Hydrocotyle umbellata, which is quite common in urban areas as well. H. umbellata goes by a couple different aliases; some may know it as pennywort, others may be more familiar with dollarweed. Whatever you call it, you have likely seen it from time to time. Yes, yes and to many it is quite the nuisance yard weed. Growing on sandy upper edges of marshes as well as pond and lake shores, the silver-dollar shaped leaves of the pennywort are a common sight in many coastal states to which they are native, stretching as far west as California and all the way up the east coast to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  

H. umbellata along in our monitoring site

H. umbellata is perennial, meaning that the plant itself lives for many years and tends to be supported by underground parts, such as rhizomes or bulbs. As a matter of fact, these underground parts store some of the medicinal components of the plant. Belonging to the ginseng family, Araliaceae, it is little wonder that this little low-growing herb contains some medicinal properties. Due to the ethanol content of its subterranean parts, it has been used as an anti-inflammatory and memory stimulant. It is also anxiolytic, meaning it can be used to reduce anxiety, and was used to do such in Brazilian folk medicine. However, due to the water-loving nature of the plant and the unfortunate problem of polluted and weed-killer laced water we face today, it is perhaps best to refrain from harvesting out in ‘the wild’, to avoid ingesting any of the toxicity it may have absorbed.

So the next time you spot our green little friends on the roadside, or perhaps in yours or a neighbor’s yard under the guise of an obnoxious weed, be sure to tip your hat to all their hidden wonders.

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