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The Back Garden Project: The Knotweed Strikes Back

This is the 12th post in The Back Garden Project, one GOOD community member's effort to turn a neglected corner of the city into a thriving garden.

This time of year in a garden is all about maintenance, particularly staying on top of weeds—and the Japanese knotweed grows like gangbusters. This is no surprise to those who've dealt with the stuff, but it's still staggering to me just how fast it grows. These pictures are taken after just a few days without weeding. Japanese knotweed is creeping up through the paths (wood chip and brick alike), amidst other plants, and even from under and around the stone of my rebuilt patio, as pictured above.

Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) spreads through incredibly extensive networks of underground runners that strike out from its highly productive rhizomes, and it can also propagate from seeds (more here). As many have pointed out in comments on previous posts, this means that as long as there's any of it living anywhere nearby, it will continue to try to spread and grow. Apparently, my thought that "some of them get to stay" was a bit naïve.

Keeping on top of these buggers is essentially all I do out back this time of year, particularly as I have little produce to pick or worry about among my native undergrowth.

But wait! It turns out that some people consider knotweed to be produce itself! Thanks to GOOD reader edgertor who clued me in to this in a comment a few weeks back, I've been reading into it. Food blogger Aaron Kagan has a great little piece on knotweed as food (from which the lovely photo below is borrowed), noting that "the flavor is an exact cross between asparagus and rhubarb."

Who knew? A quick search online will reveal dozens of recipes (here's another good site from forager "Wildman Steve Brill"). Apparently it's even a major source of resveratrol, for people on that tip.

Unfortunately, as Oregon State's "Garden Hints" page notes with a straight face, "this plant grows and spreads too quickly for eating to be an effective means of control." Shucks.

But I wouldn't be eating any of my own Japanese knotweed anyway, considering the quality of my soil and how long its been growing there.

Still, it's good to know that this viciously invasive plant, which grows so aggressively throughout the country and the world (it's propogation and sale are prohibited in eight states and throughout the United Kingdom) actually has some apparently delicious uses.

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