Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Incomprehensive Field Guide to Our Backyard

When we lived in British Columbia, our backyard was more or less a swamp. At any rate, it was a lawnless mess—we did have moss and buttercups and equisetum and things, but it was mostly rocks and dirt.

And we thought it was great! It made the perfect jurassic-era backdrops for our toy dinosaurs and this one time my dad dug a huge pit, trying to get out a rock (which he claimed must've been part of the Canadian Shield at some point), but it never mattered how many holes we dug because once we were finished digging and making a big mess back there, we'd just fill in our holes and they'd get recovered with bog-loving "weeds" and we all lived happily ever after.

Except for the one time that my little brother, who was two at the time, was caught eating some mushrooms he'd found. After a bit of a panic, he was taken to the hospital where it was determined that the mushrooms must not have been toxic because he was just fine.

But it's important to know what grows in your backyard, especially when your little ones can't keep things out of their mouths.

In Alberta and Utah yard weeds are fairly boring. Besides grass, dandelions are plentiful (and edible) and thistles are prickly (and edible should a baby decide to brave the prickles). I don't know—I never really noticed much of anything growing besides grass (though we did have mushrooms in Orem...and morning glory, come to think of it). At any rate, it didn't seem too difficult to keep questionable plants out of my children's mouths in Utah. I don't know if it was simply because I was more familiar with the local plants or if it's because Benjamin's more of an oral explorer than his sisters but whatever the cause I am suddenly hyper aware of the smorgasbord that surrounds him.

Our lawn is a mixed-greens salad so no matter where I sit the boy, he's got plenty of different plants to choose to chew. To add to the confusion, we get different things growing in different seasons. This is not at all what our lawn looked like in the fall or the winter. Now that it's spring our lawn is quite colourful!

Yes, this is our lawn.

It's not exactly that I encourage Benjamin to eat the weeds but since he just can't seem to stop, I took some time this afternoon to find and identify every plant we could find in our backyard. The NC State TurfFiles Center was immensely helpful, as was the great, wide, internet, in general. And fortunately, most of the plants we found seem to be edible.

Miriam had a fun time making a little bouquet and helping me find all the different flowers:

First, here's henbit. If you have a turtle, do not feed it this. If your baby's chewing on it, though, you don't need to freak out. It's fine. We don't actually seem to have very much of this in our yard, though it is (obviously) present.


Deadnettle is apparently easy to confuse with henbit. I'm not sure how since deadnettle has purple-tinted leaves at the top. Deadnettle does not cause death; rather, its name comes from the fact that although it looks like has no sting (so its sting is dead, I guess). A member of the mint family, it's edible (not all mints are) and, as an added bonus, it's high in iron (so munch away, my breast-fed boy—there's plenty of it to go around).

There was actually a time when I considered planting deadnettle in our garden—to add some late-winter/early-spring colour to our yard—and then late-winter/early-spring happened and our yard exploded with the flower beds and all over the lawn. I don't think I'll be planting any of this since it's everywhere already. Who knew?

What a lovely, picturesque segue into the speedwell family. I've identified two so far—persian and corn—it's possible we have others. The lawn-invading species tend to be the "creeping" variety of the plants. Persian speedwell is tricky to find conclusive opinions about its edibility or toxicity. This person claims it is toxic. This person has made a tea out of it (and is still alive). And this website lists it as a medicinal herb.

Corn speedwell is noted as a medicinal plant on Wikipedia and here.

Obviously Benjamin isn't eating loads of any of these things. He's just...examining them with his mouth.

You've got a little something...
He was going to town on the chickweed today. Apparently this is a popular edible plant—and a key ingredient in the Japanese "Festival of Seven Herbs" dish, eaten on January seventh. I tried some today but I don't think I tried enough to actually taste it.


 We found some common vetch growing along the side of the house.

We don't have much of this in the yard, which is good, because apparently the seeds are potentially toxic (though this site is talking specifically about cattle, not people), while the foliage itself is edible (again, for cattle). Apparently it's related to fava beans. People actually get poisoned from fava beans as well but we ate them all the time in the Middle East. It doesn't look as though I'll be encouraging my children to forage for vetch pods.

At least it's not growing all through the lawn so I don't have to worry about Benjamin eating it...yet!

We have plenty of wild onion and clover. Both are edible. Which seems totally normal to me.

I just noticed the ground ivy today. I don't know if it just recently bloomed or what but I don't remember seeing it on Sunday when we were playing outside (it poured all day yesterday so we didn't go outside at all (except to do the whole school bus thing)).

Ground ivy is apparently edible...and peppery...and all over our yard.

Hairy bittercress was difficult for me to identify online because my girls brought me just the flowers to put in our bouquet.

The flowers actually stick up far away from the base of the plant, which looks much different.

It's edible(ish) but Benjamin isn't quite into it yet. It doesn't seem to grow in the middle of our lawn and instead sticks to the borders. I can keep Benjamin away from the fences...for now. But this plant is probably alright for him to stick in his mouth as well.

Here's a field pansy, also known as a johnnyjumpup:

I think they're adorable. And they're perfectly fine to eat.

Here's a second picture of one. I like this one because you can tell Miriam's smiling back there...but she's twirling the pansy so I included the first picture (which showed the pansy but not her smile).

Miriam doesn't eat random plants anymore (she was more of a dirt-baby, anyway), which is good because she keeps finding things I can't identify.

Anything green that isn't flowering is super hard because I don't know how to describe the leaves...but I think this is from Carolina Geranium:

It's edible (but bitter) so even if Benjamin found any of this (I had Miriam show me where she found it and there didn't seem to be much...and it's not in the lawn) I don't think he'd eat much of it.

This little green guy? He's all over the front flowerbed. I haven't been able to give him a name though...

Nor have I been able to identify whatever this green stuff is that's growing between our deadnettle:

 But, we did find some Indian Mock Strawberries (the berries of which are edible (though not very flavourful)):

Oh! We also found one dandelion plant, growing in a mossy corner of our backyard. Dandelions don't seem to be quite as invasive here as they are other places. This one time (in Alberta), my mom offered me a penny for every dandelion head I picked in the yard (so that they wouldn't go to seed) and she ended up paying me around ten dollars for one afternoon of work. I would have been a poorer child had that deal been made in North Carolina.

Dandelions are, of course, edible. I feel like everyone knows that. But maybe they don't.

So, that's just some of the plants in our yard. The chickweed, speedwells, and ground ivy make up the majority of our lawn right now, with little sprigs of onion popping up all over, and clover huddling in the shade.

We had a lovely afternoon outside. Miriam made so many bouquets, which I made her keep outside to lessen Daddy's allergy symptoms inside. She made this particular one "for [my] wedding."

Benjamin played his part of "weed eater" while I did the laundry. It was a lovely day—seventy degrees, warm, sunny, windy, and not humid at all. The laundry dried in no time!

We spent some time playing on the slide. Benjamin can't climb the ladder by himself, but I helped him do it a couple of times. He seemed to think it was interesting.

And he's got such good balance!


He can slide down the slide by himself without falling over, though sometimes he doesn't even try to scoot to the edge and I get impatient and tug his feet so he'll come down. I'm not sure he's quite figured out how it works so when he goes down on his own it's completely accidental, but he seems to enjoy it.

Once he's down and his feet hit the ground, he usually bends over to pick a handful of vegetation.

I seriously can't keep that stuff out of his mouth (thus all my research) but I'm hopeful that one day he'll stop putting everything in his mouth and will develop an interest in cars and balls and things. I mean, he'll play with those things if we hand them to him but he finds sampling our lawn to be an equally amusing activity.

Here's Miriam pretending to be a totem pole with Benja-boy. He's not entirely aware he's part of her game...

As Andrew remarked this evening as I was pulling the last of the laundry off the line, "I love our backyard." 

We really do.


  1. Wow, there is a ton of stuff back there! Dr j posted the poison control number several places in our house a few days ago because he said, "with this child you are going to need this!" Benji's legs crack me up :). He 's a cutie!

  2. Maybe Benjamin will be a botanist...

  3. Wow, that's quite the 'garden' of weeds you've got going on there. But at least they're pretty! Benjamin sure looks cute and grown up. Sheesh! It seems like I was just reading about your experiences of him in the hospital as a preemie!

  4. Great post! I enjoyed learning what most of the weeds in my yard are. :) Miriam's wedding bouquet is pretty, and Benjamin is adorable as always. Thanks for sharing your findings - I enjoyed the pictures and the labels. I hung out laundry yesterday, too.

    (Oh, thanks for your reply the other night on the other post. I may have more to comment about that later, but I've been a bit busy and haven't been able to enjoy your reply as well as I want. Just wanted you to know it was appreciated very much!)

  5. I am impressed! Great botanical research! You should come to Brittany... Our plants are recorded but I keep forgetting their names (Latin and/or French).
    Benjamin could become a botanist or a chef or a taster!

  6. Haha! So, by the way. That Vtech is actually Vetch. Sometimes I swear I'm lysdexic. ;)