Bishop’s weed

Look carefully at the photo to the right and you’ll see, nestled between the proud crimson plumes of the two astilbes and surrounded by the delicate leaves  of epimedium and heuchera, the innocuous-looking face-in- the-crowd that is bishop’s weed. Also known as goutweed and snow-in-the-mountain, bishop’s weed is hiding in plain sight in every shady nook of my garden.  It’s a shape-shifter of a plant, insinuating itself into a gaggle of ladies mantle, hovering in the shade of astrantia fronds, trying to fit in — and almost, but never quite — pulling it off.  But pulling is what you’ll do if bishop’s weed gets a foothold in your garden.  Not only does it spread by seed, but it quickly establishes large underground networks of rhizomes, strong as plastic netting and almost impossible to rout out.

I’m a pretty open-border type of gardener.  Well-behaved and attractive migrant  “volunteers” such as mountain bluet, splurge, and blue lobelia are always welcome and free to stay as long as they like. But bishop’s weed is a “bad hombre”, a bully that sucks up territory and nutrients and strangles the life out of anything around it.

Here’s a recent mug shot: Please be on the look-out.


by Edna St. Vincent Millay

White with daisies and red with sorrel
   And empty, empty under the sky!—
Life is a quest and love a quarrel—
   Here is a place for me to lie.

Daisies spring from damnèd seeds,
   And this red fire that here I see
Is a worthless crop of crimson weeds,
   Cursed by farmers thriftily.

But here, unhated for an hour,
   The sorrel runs in ragged flame,
The daisy stands, a bastard flower,
   Like flowers that bear an honest name.

And here a while, where no wind brings
   The baying of a pack athirst,
May sleep the sleep of blessèd things,
   The blood too bright, the brow accurst.

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11 Responses to Bishop’s weed

  1. Leslie Gold says:

    Same plant? Seems to be used in many cultures for a great many conditions:

    • Liza says:

      Yes, Leslie, I’ve read that it has many wonderful healing powers. But, as an ornamental, it’s still a danger to society! So nice to hear from you. Xxx

  2. Bill Loeb says:

    We’re old friends. I’m pulling it all the time. S/ Neighbor Bill

  3. Love that poem. Some weeds smell beautiful, like the floribunda everywhere here in Wayne County Pennsylvania this summer. I hate to see it strangle the cedars especially now that the bloom is off the rose.

  4. Susan Fisher says:

    I spent as much time yesterday as I could stand pulling Bishop’s weed out of my raspberry plants. It was a toss up as to what was worse, the damned weeds or the thorns on the raspberries!

  5. mary swanson says:

    Oh, you are so right Liza!!! I battled that plant for 15 years in Vermont. I’m ashamed to say I grew so desperate I tried Roundup but it didn’t phase the Bishop’s weed. The only thing I found that worked (combined with rooting it out everytime I saw it) was sheets of tin driven straight down into the earth– to protect my strawberry patch.
    Love that poem!

    • Liza says:

      I’m sure you don’t miss Bishop’s weed, Mary. But I hope you miss us a little, because we surely miss you!

  6. Beverly Mills Gyllenhaal says:

    Thanks for the insight! We’ll be inspecting the borders of your truly inspirational garden in just s few weeks — promise we won’t judge if a few weeds poke through. Selfishly I am hoping you’re spending more energy on the herbs, edible flowers, luscious lettuces, snap beans and all the other amazing morsels we get to share at Gyllenhaal Heaven Week every year. Oh— and the pickles— please don’t forget your pickles. Summer is not complete without Liza’s Famous Pickles!

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