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Garden Q&A: Spiderworts come in all shades of purple, pink, red, white


We just moved into our house this spring. A flower has been blooming for over a month in my garden. Could you identify it for me?

Spiderwort is a perennial that is native to Maryland, but there are many species, all from this hemisphere. They will interbreed, so we can’t say for sure which one you have. Blooms come in all shades of purple, pink, red and white. The bright yellow anthers can be very prominent, almost like small starbursts. The various spiderwort species bloom from spring into summer and are happy in sun, shade, loam or clay. They do like at least a moderately moist soil. Usually about 1 ½ inches tall, they will spread by seed or rhizomes into showy clumps.

I’m afraid the giant plant that causes blindness is in my backyard. It shot up 5 feet practically overnight. I haven’t touched it, mainly because the leaves have prickles. It hasn’t bloomed yet, but I sprayed it with a weed killer. Now what do I do?

Giant hogweed is uncommon in Maryland now, where it has been reported and removed as a federal noxious weed for decades. It is bigger in every way than its lookalikes — growing 10-15 feet tall, leaves reaching 5 feet across, the hollow purple-specked stems measuring up to 4 inches in diameter. The sap is the danger. When it contacts skin, it removes ultraviolet ray protection, so that sunlight causes severe burns. Blindness horror stories trace to kids pretending a hollow cut stem is a telescope. Great care, including eye protection, must be taken when removing giant hogweed. Chances are much greater that you will encounter one of the lookalike plants, including beneficial natives such as elderberry. Search online for “NY giant hogweed identification” for excellent photos of lookalikes. Your plant’s thorny leaves sound like prickly lettuce, a fast-growing annual weed that can be pulled by hand. Send photos through the HGIC website’s “Ask an Expert” for a positive identification. Positive sightings must be reported to the Maryland Department of Agriculture Plant Protection Division.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.


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About Mary Ellen Bellusci

Mary Ellen Bellusci is a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland... A foodie, traveler, writer, and pursuer of happiness.