Stalking the Feral Asparagus, Week Ending 7/19/2020

I almost skipped blogging this week. The summer heat is too oppressive to forage or garden. Heck, it’s almost too hot and humid to think about things outside.

Despite my garden fails, I’ve noticed one aberration this year – the presence of several feral vegetables growing in my yard. Which made me contemplate how many “wild” edibles I’ve discussed are in fact not really wild at all. Everything from dandelions to garlic mustard was introduced to North America as a vegetable crop, and merrily skipped its way out of the garden fence and into the wild.

With all due apologies to Euell Gibbons, I suspect he stalked feral asparagus, not wild asparagus. (Although I must admit I haven’t read his book…) The frilly fronds have popped up in two different locations in my yard, outside of the tidy four by four garden bed where they belong. Behind the chicken run, a clearly female plant with berries that will spread asparagus even further …

Feral asparagus behind the chicken run
Feral asparagus behind the chicken run

… and somehow a patch growing underneath my deck. In the photo above you can also see burdock (another vegetable introduced from overseas). In the photo below: violets, clover, wild grape and hostas, all of which are edible and most of which (on the right hand side, anyway) are also technically “weeds”.

Feral asparagus under my deck
Feral asparagus under my deck

I’ve mentioned on previous occasions that “weed” is largely a matter of where the plant in question is growing; whether tucked away in structured rows tended by the gardener with care, or popping up wherever the heck it feels like. For three years, I’ve tried in vain to cultivate “Mayo Indian” and “Golden” amaranth, planting it in various locations for looks, edible leaves and grain. And lo, it came up all on its own behind the compost bins. (Volunteer tomatoes, beans and winter squash also tend to popup in this area.)

Cultivated amaranth growing as weeds
Cultivated amaranth growing as weeds

The “domestic” amaranth plants have never looked that good anywhere I planted them on purpose! On the other hand, my garden is now home to several WILD amaranth plants, rubbing elbows with my buckwheat cover crop / green mulch.

Wild amaranth growing in the garden
Wild amaranth growing in the garden

So which plant is actually “wild” after all?

Foraging books often include parsnip as a “wild” edible, and I now know just how easy it is for this biennial root vegetable to hop the fence. Or fall out of the box, in the case of my personal garden. Last year I planted parsnips too early, and one highly motivated plant went to seed. Now I have parsnips growing at the base of that same box (which is now growing potatoes).

Feral parsnips
Feral parsnips

I didn’t have the heart to pull them up – they’re a vegetable, after all! – but this one is clearly bolting already which means the root won’t be edible anyway. Or maybe I’ve accidentally bred a new variety of annual (rather than biennial) parsnip. Who knows!

What vegetables – wild or feral – are you finding in nature these days? (Assuming you’re able to leave the air conditioning, of course…)

4 comments

  1. I’d always be a bit careful about volunteer things that look like parsnip or carrot. I’m not sure if it is the same in your neck of the woods but in the UK we have two deadly umbeldifferous plants that look a bit similar. A trained eye can spot the diff but eeek.

    • We do have some poisonous lookalikes here as well. I’m sure folks are sick of me saying “Make sure of your identification!” but that’s a great example of why it’s so important!

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