A look at changes in common names of Iowa weeds

January 13, 2020 4:30 PM
Blog Post

Although ‘pure’ botanists often scoff at the use of common names for plants, common names are a useful tool when working with domesticated plants and weeds since the pool of species is relatively small.  One problem with common names is they may vary from location to location. When I started with extension in the 1980’s many of our common weeds were called different names depending on where you were in the state.  I suspect the popularity of herbicides had as much to do with the loss of regional weed names as anything since manufacturers could only list a single weed name on the labels of nationally distributed products.

I recently acquired a copy of The Weed Flora of Iowa written by L. H. Pammel, published in 1913a.  A quick scan of the book revealed most weed’s common names remained consistent over the years, but there were some noticeable changes (Tables 1 and 2).  I probably was most surprised that horseweed wasn’t listed as a name for Ambrosia trifida (giant ragweed).  In my first year with extension, Dick Fawcett (former extension weed scientist) had me establish a weed garden at the Farm Progress Show at the Amana Colonies.  For two days I had farmers telling me non-stop that I had misidentified giant ragweed, and that plant really was horseweed.  Two common names I was unaware of and found fascinating were half-breed weed for marsh elder (Iva xanthifolia), and shoo-fly for Venice mallow (Hibiscus trionum).


aI appreciate Deb Lewis, curator of the Ada Haden Herbarium, giving me three of Dr. Pammel's books related to weeds.