Horsetail weed of the week

Equisetum arvense  Field Horsetail  Field horsetail is part of the ancient genus Equisetum, which was the dominant plant group during the Carboniferous age more than 230 million years ago. Horsetail is easily recognised by its upright, fir tree-like shoots that appear in summer.

Rhizomes

Horsetail is an invasive, deep-rooted weed with fast-growing rhizomes (underground stems) that quickly send up dense stands of foliage.  A primitive spore-bearing plant in the family Equisetaceae.  Horsetail spreads by spores or creeping rhizomes and tubers.  Rhizomes and tubers are spread with cultivating equipment, and through this mechanism they can infest nurseries quickly. The creeping rhizomes of this pernicious plant may go down as deep as 2m (7ft) below the surface, making them hard to remove by digging out, especially if they invade a border. They often enter gardens by spreading underground from neighbouring properties or land. Fleshy tubers grow along the underground rhizomes singly or in pairs, and are positioned from a few inches to six feet deep in the soil. They store carbohydrates produced by photosynthesis, allowing field horsetail to have amazing regenerative capability and making it difficult to control.

rhizomes equisetum

 Fertile spore-bearing shoots

In spring, fertile light brown stems, 20-50cm (10-20in) tall, appear with a cone-like spore producing structure at the end of the stems. In summer, sterile green shoots develop into fir tree-like plants, 60cm (2ft) tall. Although the absence of apparent leaves, which are represented by toothed scaly sheaths at the joints renders its shading affect comparatively unimportant, its filching of soil nutrients is considerable. The freely branched furrowed green stems feel harsh with a rough flinty covering. These over ground shoots are developed from hairy blackish stems ramifying below the soil sometimes to a depth of several metres and bearing numerous ovoid dark tubers which are readily detached and commonly re-establish this weed. Two types of stems grow from the rhizome annually. The fertile stems are off-white, 10–25 cm tall and 3–5 mm diameter, with 4–8 whorls of brown scale leaves, and an apical brown spore cone 10–40 mm long and 4–9 mm broad. Un-branched brownish shoots bearing several scaly whorls and ending in a cone of many shield like structures grow in early spring, resembling short asparagus sprouts, up to a foot tall.

equisetum close up spores

They are leafless, topped by a spore-bearing cone that can be up to four inches long. Since they lack chlorophyll, they die shortly after releasing a cloud of dust like spores.  they require a film of moisture on their surface to permit fertilisation of the female cells being effected by the free swimming male sperms which are liberated from other individuals. When the fertilised egg develops it becomes another horsetail, which forms cone bearing shoots in spring and branched barren shoots in summer.

wequisetum arvense sexual generation

Sterile shoots

The sterile stems are 10–90 cm tall and 3–5 mm diameter, with jointed segments around 2–5 cm long with whorls of side shoots at the segment joints; the side shoots have a diameter of about 1 mm. Some stems can have as many as 20 segments.

equisetum stem

Sterile stems arise after the fertile stems die back. These stems are grooved and hollow, covered with whirls of feathery leaves that make it look like a green bottlebrush or a miniature conifer, and persist through the summer until the first autumn frosts. horsetails have a very high diploid number of 216 (108 pairs of chromosomes). The specific name arvense is derived from the Latin arvensis, meaning “from the meadow, field or grassland.”

equisetum arvense stand

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equisetum_arvense)

Field horsetail is found growing in landscape beds, fields, wooded areas and along roadsides. the prevalence of horsetail in fields where the surface of the soil is likely to be very moist in the earlier months of the year is associated with the alteration of generations referred to , since once the perennial spore-bearing generation is established it appears to be comparatively indifferent to soil conditions. Therefore, whilst it is often found in moist soils, it can grow well in drier places once established, and is a common problem in gravelly soils along roadsides and railroad tracks. Field horsetail contains high levels of silica, giving rise to another common name: scouring rush; it also makes it toxic to livestock. In cross section the hollow structure can be clearly seen.

equisetum cross section

Controlling Field Horsetail

Control options include repeated mowing or mechanical removal. Although it can take years, dedicated removal of sterile stems depletes the carbohydrate reserves and will eventually exhaust the rhizome. Field horsetail grows best in full sun, and can also be controlled by shading. Mechanical removal of the stems followed by mulching with black plastic can also be effective. Tillage can make the problem worse by spreading the rhizomes and/or tubers. Removing horsetail by hand is difficult. Although rhizomes growing near the surface can be forked out, deeper roots will require a lot of excavation. Shallow, occasional weeding is not effective and can make the problem worse, as the plant can regrow from any small pieces left behind. However, removing shoots as soon as they appear above the ground can reduce infestation if carried out over a number of years.

If horsetail appears in lawns, it can be kept in check by mowing regularly.

Chemical controls

Infestations of horsetail can be weakened with weedkiller.

  • On vacant soil, where there are no herbaceous perennials, bulbs or crops, you can use Bayer Ground Clear Weedkiller containing glyphosate/flufenacet/metosulam to inhibit new shoots
  • Tough weedkillers containing glyphosate (e.g. Scotts Roundup Ultra 3000, Scotts Tumbleweed, Bayer Tough Rootkill, Bayer Garden Super Strength Weedkiller or Doff Maxi Strength Glyphosate Weedkiller or for spot treatment use Scotts Roundup Gel) can be applied in late summer when growth is strong. Before using, bruise the shoots with a rake to ensure effective (https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=257)

USES

The fronds of horsetail a persistent weed of badly drained soils and lawns are covered with tiny crystals of silica . This makes them quite abrasive and they were once used for polishing pewter and arrow shafts ( Mabey ,2010). They were also used as a fine grade sandpaper for cabinetmakers (Salisbury 1961). Horsetail is a member of the Equisetaceae family; the sole survivor of a line of plants going back three hundred million years. It is a descendant of ancient plants that grew as tall as trees during the carboniferous period of prehistoric times and members of this family gave rise to many of our coal deposits. Since being recommended by the Roman physician Galen, several cultures have employed horsetail as a folk remedy for kidney and bladder troubles, arthritis, bleeding ulcers, and tuberculosis. The Chinese use it to cool fevers and as a remedy for eye inflammations such as conjunctivitis and corneal disorders, dysentery, flu, swellings and haemorrhoids. (http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-horsetail.html). Horsetail, or Equisetum arvense, is an herb that has historically been used as a diuretic to make you urinate more frequently. Diuretics affect the kidneys, increasing the amount of water and salt that are released into the urine. For people with kidney problems or edema (when the body holds onto fluid), getting rid of unwanted fluid and salt can be an important part of treatment. (http://www.healthline.com/health/does-horsetail-help-you-pee).

  1. Hyde, H. A., Wade, A. E., & Harrison, S. G. (1978). Welsh Ferns. National Museum of Wales ISBN 0-7200-0210-9.
  2.  Flora of North America: Equisetum arvense
  3.  Bebbington, A. “Toxicity of Equisetum to Horses”. Retrieved 1 December 2010. 
  4. ^ Howard, Michael. Traditional Folk Remedies (Century, 1987); p.159-160
  5. (http://oregonstate.edu/dept/nursery-weeds/weedspeciespage/horsetail/Equisetum_arvense_horsetail.html).
  6. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equisetum_arvense)
  7. (https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=257)
  8. (http://extension.psu.edu/plants/green-industry/news/2012/weed-of-the-month-field-horsetail-equisetum-arvense)
  9. Sir Edward Salisbury 1961 Weeds and Aliens New Naturalist Collins London
  10. Richard Mabey 2010 Weeds Profile books London 2010

Field bindweed Convulvulus arvensis Weed of the Week

Other common names, mostly obsolete, include lesser bindweed, European bindweed, withy wind (in basket willow crops), perennial morning glory, small flowered morning glory, creeping jenny, and possession vine. It is called leli in Punjabi.

Convolvulus arvensis (field bindweed) is a species of bindweed in the morning glory family, native to Europe and Asia. When unimpeded, wiry stems often grow more than 3 feet long and intertwine to form prostrate web-like mats or climb any nearby plant, fence or wall. It has perfected a whole arsenal of survival techniques that have ensured it is one of the most intractable species of weed.
Structure.

Leaves are most commonly arrow-shaped, 1/2 to 1 1/4 inches long, and are arranged alternately along the stem.
bindweed

Funnel-shaped, white or pinkish flowers, approximately 1 inch in diameter, are borne on stalks that grow in leaf axils.  Flowers have a light almond fragrance.  The nectar of the flowers attracts a large number of insect species. Several pink stripes are sometimes present on the underside of the flower, extending from the base of the flower to the tip of the petal.
bindweed flowers

The flower stalk also bears two tiny bracts 1 inch below the flower. Though most field bindweed seeds germinate by early summer, seeds can germinate anytime between early spring and late autumn. This variation in germination time is one of the strategies by which field bindweed ensures its survival. Seedlings may appear from seeds buried for up to 50 years. The longevity of the seeds providing another strategy of persistence.  bindweed seeds

Once the seedling is established the plant extends underground horizontally. The underground system may extend 30 square yards in a season and the vertical roots can penetrate to a depth of eighteen feet. New shoots may generate from the underground stems or from the roots. When the roots are cut the growth of new roots is promoted although the plant is temporarily weakened.  the plant has a rapid system to regenerate following damage. Once the shoot is cut a milky sap oozes from the cut and seals the cut forming a callus. Dormant buds near to the site of the cut are stimulated to generate new roots and stems. Therefore even if the plant is chopped into pieces each piece will form a new bindweed plant. It the plants are repeatedly cut the bush develops a multi-stemmed form generating multiple branches. If the stems are buried they can take root. If the plants are eaten  by animals they are stimulated to grow even faster. Flowers last only 1 day, and are produced throughout the summer. Freezing temperatures in autumn cause shoots to die back, although most roots remain intact. In the laboratory field bindweed has been shown to be able to find its way to a light source through a maze of blackened tubes.
Field bindweed produces a tap root which can penetrate up to 18 feet in depth. Many spreading roots grow laterally from the tap root, sometimes extending 30 feet. The extensive root system allows the plant to compete successfully with other plants and survive harsh conditions, such as drought and intense cold. Chemicals secreted by the roots are thought to interfere with the germination of some crop seed. Buds develop on the lateral roots, producing underground rhizomes and aboveground shoots.
bindweed roots 2

Field bindweed rhizomes and stems break easily, and when fragmented, underground plant parts will produce new plants.
One plant can produce as many as 14 shoots in 1 year, each of which grows 1 ½ – 4 ½ feet in the first season. Those shoots shaded by other plants will adopt a climbing habit to reach light. Each plant is capable of producing 25-300 seeds, which generally fall near the parent plant. However, seeds can also be carried by water, in mud stuck to
vehicles or shoes, and by birds or other animals that consume them. Due to an extremely hard seed coat, some seeds can
remain viable in the soil for more than 50 years.

Problems with Bindweed
Although it produces attractive flowers, it is often unwelcome in gardens as a nuisance weed due to its rapid growth and choking of cultivated plants. It was most likely introduced into North America as a contaminant in crop seed as early as 1739, as an invasive species. Plants typically inhabit roadsides, grasslands and also along streams. Its dense mats invade agricultural fields and reduce crop yields.
In one of the tales collected by The brothers Grimm, Our Lady’s Little Glass, this flower is used by The Virgin Mary to drink wine with when she helps free a wagoner’s cart.  Obviously she didn’t drink wine in the quantities that most of us do. The story goes on to say that “the little flower is still always called Our Lady’s Little Glass.”

. Control of bindweed
High light conditions are optimal for field bindweed and it is not seen in heavily shaded conditions thriving in areas with bare soil or sparse plantings. Consequently blocking the plants from reaching light is at the core of many of the strategies for its control.  Mulch can help prevent bindweed growth by blocking light. Desirable plants that produce early, vigorous growth can create a shady environment for the prostrate-growing field bindweed and put it at a competitive environment for the prostrate growing of field bindweed putting it at a disadvantage. Young seedlings can be destroyed when cut several inches below the soil. Hoeing, digging, or tilling more mature field bindweed every 1-2 weeks for several seasons can reduce plant vigour, and eventually allow for some control to be achieved. Personally I have found fighting with this plant for dominance of the garden to be a constant battle. The best that I could attain was a truce, but if I neglected to watch for the small shoots I would be under attack again. Whilst I think the flowers are very pretty and delicate the plant will completely smother any plant it can utilise for support. Basically it is a thug.
bindweed seedling

Ecological importance
Many insects visit field bindweed for pollination. The plant has been used as a remedy for spider bites and for female problems, among other things (what a lovely euphemism, I suspect it doesn’t mean pain from wearing high heels or sitting next to a sweaty bloke who has never used deodorant on the tube). Its stems have been used for cordage, (let us hope they didn’t throw the cord on the soil when they had finished with it) and its leaves and stems have properties that can destroy mosquito larvae. Although some grazing animals will consume field bindweed, it produces poisonous alkaloids and can accumulate toxic levels of nitrates. The plant can serve as a host for several viruses that affect potatoes, tomatoes and other crops. Its presence in crops can also interfere with harvest and significantly reduce yields.

Galium aparine L. cleavers

Galium aparine L. cleavers,
Also called clivers, goosegrass, kisses, stickyweed, stickybud, sticky willy
This species is a straggling climber, growing up to 3 m long, with slender 4-angled stems. Its narrow leaves can reach 7 cm long and are arranged in groups (whorls) of 6-8 (rarely 4) around the stem.

Goosegrass plant

Goosegrass plant


This is a scrambling annual whose stems may reach up to five feet in hedgerows, fields and gardens where it flourishes. It clings by the curved hook-like prickles on the four angles of the stems and the edges of the leaves.
Indeed the whole plant is covered in minute hooked hairs, and can cling to skin, fur and clothing. It has been raised from the excreta of various birds demonstrating that it is consumed by them. Viable seeds have also been found in manure and compost showing that they are resistant to the heat required to decompose manure and compost and that they are persistent. The flowers are tiny (2mm across), white, 4-petalled tubes. The fruits are purplish green covered with numerous colourless joked bristles, often borne in clusters of two or three. The individual fruits are approximately 2mm to 2.5 mm across and weighs approximately 0.02 to 0.05 grams. Germination mostly occurs in autumn but may occur in spring. In harsh winters it is the latter that survives. The germination in different seasons is a characteristic that has enabled this plant to proliferate.
goosegrass flowers

These fruits are also covered in hooked hairs which catch in the fur of passing animals or the peoples clothing. This is an efficient distribution mechanism that has contributed to the plant’s wide geographical range.
goose grass seed

.It is well known by children for its ‘stickiness’, owing to its covering of hooked hairs. There is a rather cruel Scottish children’s game involving this plant. The trick is to persuade somebody to allow a piece of it to be put in their mouth – then pull it out fast. The hooks being rather sharp, the game is called ‘bleedy tongues’! Galium aparine is also well known by herbalists for its medicinal properties.

goose grass close up
Geography and distribution
Galium aparine is naturally widespread throughout Europe, North America and some parts of Asia, and occurs as far north as Alaska and Greenland. Its seeds have been recorded from deposits of Paleolithic or Mesolithic Age, which render it less probable that it owes its presence to conditions created by man, despite being especially associated with habitat conditions that are partially artificial. It can grow at heights of up to 1500 feet above sea level. It has been introduced as far south as Australia, New Zealand, and the sub-Antarctic Islands. It can be a prolific weed of cereal crops (especially in Europe and North America). Heavy infestation can cause significant yield losses, and its seeds can be difficult to separate mechanically from those of crops such as oilseed rape (canola). It is found throughout the British Isles (except in some places in the far north) and appears to be increasing in abundance in recent years despite the use of species-specific agricultural herbicides. Galium aparine can be found growing naturally on scree slopes and shingle banks.

Folklore
Used as a love medicine by one tribe, the infusion of plant was used as a bath by women to be successful in love. Also used as a hair tonic, said to be good for the hair, making it grow long. Several Native American Tribes used an infusion of the plant for gonorrhea. A red dye is obtained from a decoction of the root, it is said to dye bones red. It was also believed to remove freckels. Gerard writes of Clivers as a marvelous remedy for the bites of snakes, spiders and all venomous creatures. A thick matt of the stems, when used as a sieve for filtering milk, was said to give healing properties to the milk
http://www.altnature.com/gallery/cleavers.htm
John Ruskin went so far as to trace out aesthetic and moral standards for flowers labelling weeds as unfinished. He argued that it was unnatural for a plant to have a cluster of bristles springing from its centre. Interestingly the term weedy when applied to humans has connotations of weakness or feebleness rather that those of strength and intimidation characteristics of many weed species.

Uses
This is not a recommendation merely information
The whole plant is edible, though not particularly tasty, and in China, for example, it is eaten as a vegetable. In times of war of famine it has been eaten possibly from desperation rather than as a delicacy. Its seeds can be roasted to prepare a sort of coffee substitute. It is also reputed to have a number of medicinal properties, having been used in traditional medicine (usually as an infusion) to treat kidney problems, skin disorders and high blood pressure among other ailments. Archaeological evidence suggests that it may have been used in this way for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Cleavers is still used by medical herbalists today, although scientific evidence regarding its effectiveness is still lacking.
botanical drawing of goosegrass
Britain’s wild harvest
Kew’s Sustainable Uses of Plants Group undertook a survey of commercial uses of wild and traditionally managed plants in England and Scotland for the Countryside Agency, English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage to determine the economic role of wild plants and to assist in their sustainable use. Despite the revival of interest in herbal remedies in UK most plant material used in herbal products is imported. However, there are exceptions. In Norfolk, for example, cleavers is gathered from hedgerows and used in herbal products.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
Cultivation
This weedy species is an annual that can be grown in temperate regions, in parts of the garden managed for wildlife, as either a summer or winter annual (or occasionally as a biennial). The seed is thought to be viable for around 2-6 years unless frozen. Seeds should be sown in moist soil, preferably a rich loam, with above-average fertility and pH of 5.5-8.0. Seeds must be buried to germinate, ideally at a depth of 2-10 mm. Seeds that have passed through the gut of a herbivore are thought to have a higher germination rate. Development is rapid with flowers appearing as soon as eight weeks after germination. Ripe seeds develop from summer through to autumn, depending on the region in which plants are grown. Supports such as pea sticks can be provided, as this plant likes to scramble. Plants will die down after the fruits are released at which point seeds must be collected for next year’s plants.
Note that this plant can be invasive. In some parts of the world it is a serious weed of crops and native vegetation, where it can out-compete indigenous species. For this reason, if cultivating cleavers, care should be taken to prevent its spread into farmland or sensitive areas of conservation importance.
hooks on seeds

Climbing mechanism of Galium aparine.
Galium aparine is a herbaceous climbing plant that attaches to host plants mainly via its leaves, which are covered by hooked trichomes. Although such hooks are found on both leaf surfaces, the leaves of G. aparine are mainly positioned upon the leaves of supporting plants and rarely beneath. In order to understand the mechanism underlying this observation, we have studied structural and mechanical properties of single leaf hooks, frictional properties of leaf surfaces, turgor pressure in different leaf tissues and bending properties of the leaves in different directions. Abaxial and adaxial leaf hooks differ significantly in orientation, distribution, structure and mechanical properties. In accordance with these differences, friction properties of leaves depend on the direction of the applied force and differ significantly between both leaf surfaces. This results in a ratchet mechanism. Abaxial leaf hooks provide strong attachment upon the leaves of adjacent plants, whereas adaxial hooks cause a gliding-off from the underside of the leaves of host plants. Thus, the leaves of G. aparine can function as attachment organs, and simultaneously orient themselves advantageously for their photosynthetic function. Further adaptations in turgor pressure or concerning an anisotropy of the flexural stiffness of the leaves have not been found.
goose grass showing hooks

Always on the bright side: the climbing mechanism of Galium aparine
Georg Bauer,1 Marie-Christin Klein,2,3 Stanislav N. Gorb,2,3 Thomas Speck,1 Dagmar Voigt,2,3 and Friederike Gallenmüller1,*
Author information ► Article notes ► Copyright and License information ►
This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.

References and credits
Allen, D.E. & Hatfield, G. (2004). Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition: an Ethnobotany of Britain and Ireland. Timber Press, Portland.
Bown, D. (2008). The Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses. Dorling Kindersley, London.
Gucker, C. (2005). Galium aparine. Fire Effects Information System [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available online
Milliken, W. & Bridgewater, S. (2004). Flora Celtica –Plants and People in Scotland. Birlinn, Edinburgh.
Prendergast, H.D.V. & Sanderson, H. (2004). Britain’s Wild Harvest: The Commercial Uses of Wild Plants and Fungi. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and The Countryside Agency, London.
Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. & Dines, T.A. (eds) (2002). New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora: an Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Kew Science Editor: William Milliken
Kew contributors: Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell
While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.
http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/galium-aparine-cleavers
Richard Mabey 2010 Weeds Profile books London
Edward Salisbury 1961 Weeds and Aliens Collins Press London

Weed of the week QUACKGRASS Elytrigia repens

couch grass

Essex skipper

couch grass structure

rhizome of couch grassQUACKGRASS Elytrigia repens

Other common names include Couch grass, scutch grass, twitch grass

Appearance of Couch Grass

  • Couch grass is a common and invasive garden weed. It is a perennial grass which rapidly spreads by rhizomes (underground stems). Root system – The slender, extensively spreading rhizomes (horizontal underground stems) are white to pale yellow, with brownish sheaths at the joints (nodes), giving them a scaly appearance. Tips of the rhizomes are sharply pointed. Rhizomes can grow 3 to 11 feet long, and form a dense mat. Most rhizomes are found within 4 to 6 below the soil. Fibrous roots are produced at the nodes.
  • Stems – Stems are erect, smooth, round and unbranched. They can grow 1 to 4 feet tall and, like most grasses, are hollow.
  • Leaves – Leaves are rolled in the bud. The leaf blade (free part of the leaf) is dull grayish-green (sometimes dark green), thin, flat and finely pointed. Blades are finely ribbed on upper and lower surfaces, and measure 1 1/2 to 8 inches long (sometimes up to 12 inches) and 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide (sometimes up to 1/2 inch). The upper blade surface and margins are typically rough or slightly hairy, and the lower surface is smooth. The base of the blade is often lighter in color. The leaf sheath (part of the leaf surrounding the stem) is round and short, with overlapping margins. Lower sheaths are usually hairy, while the upper sheaths are smooth. The ligule (projection inside on the top of the sheath) is membranous and very short (1/50 to 1/25 inch long). A pair of whitish-green, brownish or reddish, narrow, claw-like appendages (auricles) clasp the stem at the junction between the leaf blade and sheath.
  • Flowers – Flowers are arranged in a long, slender, unbranched spike (2 to 10 inches), resembling a slender head of wheat. The yellow-brown seeds (1/5 to 1/3 inch long) are elongated toward the tip, tapering to a blunt base, and topped with a ring of hairs. Seeds of couch grass s germinate in early spring, and flowering occurs from late May to September. Flowers are wind-pollinated and relatively self-sterile. One  plant can produce up to 400 seeds per season, but most plants produce fewer than 50 seeds. Seeds are short-lived, and are reported to lose viability within 4 years. Seeds have been found to remain viable after passing through the digestive tracts of horses, cows and sheep, but not after passing through pigs.

Distribution

Couch grass has become naturalised throughout much of the world, and is often listed as an invasive weed. Interference of this species with crops can cause yield reductions (up to 85% in corn) and can also result in delayed corn maturity. It is an alternate food source for several insect and disease pests of grain, such as the cereal leaf beetle (Oulema melanopa) and bromegrass mosaic virus. According to a botanical publication from 1672, it was introduced into New England by the colonists for forage. Quackgrass is typically found in crop fields, roadsides, river banks, lawns, waste places and abandoned fields. It is often used for hay and pasture. This species can grow in a variety of soil types, and has a high tolerance for drought and salinity. It prefers neutral to alkaline soils.

The Problems with Couch Grass

Couch grass or twitch grass (Elymus repens) is an old enemy for many gardeners. Its wiry, underground stems and creeping shoots pop up around garden plants and before long can take over a bed. As a perennial weed thorough killing or eradication of the roots is necessary.

The network of rhizomes become entangled in clumps of herbaceous perennials and among shrubs and fruit bushes causing great problems, as they are difficult to remove. Couch can easily spread from infested lawns into adjacent borders.

Couch is usually spread from garden to garden unwittingly when small sections of rhizomes become hidden among the roots of plants or in manures or soil.

Regular chopping of rhizomes through cultivation can be an effective way of controlling quackgrass infestations.. It is very difficult to remove from garden environments, as the thin rhizomes become entangled among the roots of shrubs and perennials, and each severed piece of  rhizome can develop into a new plant. Research has found that 30% of 1/8 inch fragments of quackgrass rhizomes were capable of producing aerial shoots It may be possible to loosen the earth around the plant, and carefully pull out the complete rhizome. This is best done in the spring, when disturbed plants can recover. Another method is to dig deep into the ground in order to remove as much of the grass as possible. The area should then be covered with a thick layer of woodchips. To further prevent re-growth cardboard can be placed underneath the woodchips. The long, white rhizomes will, however, dry out and die if left on the surface. Some herbicides will also control it. The growth of rhizomes of Elymus repens (L.) Gould (couch grass) from single-node fragments on plots sown with six perennial grasses was reduced by a factor of 10, compared with initially bare plots. The location of shoot complexes of E. repens after three seasons indicated that Arrhenatherum elatius and, to lesser extents, Agrostis stolonifera or Dactylis glomerata, prevented couch growth more than Holcus lanatus or Poa trivialis. Strips of sown grass at the edge of arable fields may therefore reduce the spread of couch grass into adjacent crops. Fertiliser application of 32 kg N ha−1 doubled the amount of couch rhizome. Mefluidide and paclobutrazol, plant growth regulators which might be used to manage sown grass, had minor effects on rhizome structure. D. glomerata did not spread from where it was sown and was largely uninvaded by other species. The herbicide, N-phosphonomethyl glycine (glyphosate), is readily absorbed by the foliage and translocated in the phloem of couch grass. Despite the reduction in growth in plots where perennial grasses coexist there is no herbicide that will control couch without killing different grass species around the plant.

Ecological relevance of Couch Grass

The foliage is an important forage grass for many grazing mammals The seeds are eaten by several species of grassland birds, particularly buntings and finches. The caterpillars of some Lepidoptera use it as a foodplant, e.g. the Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola).

Uses of Couch Grass

Couch grass has valuable uses. It remains green all year round and can make good forage and hay. Total crude protein content is comparable to timothy (Phleum pratense). Nitrogen levels in couch grass are high enough, without reaching toxic levels, to be appropriate for cattle feed, although biomass productivity and palatability are generally low. Couch grass can be used to prevent soil erosion, and it is effective in removing nutrients from wastewater effluent when sprayed on soil.

The dried rhizomes of couch grass were broken up and used as incense in mediaeval Northern Europe where other resin-based types of incense were unavailable.

Medicinal uses

Couch grass it valued by herbalists for its mucilage rich rhizome. rhizomes have been used in the traditional Austrian medicine against fever, internally as a tea, syrup, or cold maceration in water, or externally applied as a crude drug.

A tea made from the roots is useful for treating urinary infections because of the herb’s broad antibiotic, and diuretic properties. One of the chemical constituents, agropyrone, has been shown to have strong antibiotic properties. Couch grass tea will also soothe and coat an inflamed sore throat, and helps clear phlegm. The herb contains mucilage that helps to clear congestion while it coats the throat. Other sources report that it has been used to treat gout, rheumatic diseases and chronic skin conditions. For all of these remedies there is a lack of clinical studies to support its efficacy.

Folklore

Couch grass is reputed to have been used in folk magic and the occult. The ‘power’ comes from the fact it has an irritating quality. This irritation is believed to be used to cause discomfort or pain to ones enemies as well as to shake up couples.