SWEET PEA SHRUB Poly­gala myr­ti­fo­lia

NZ Lifestyle Block - - NOTEBOOK -

THIS IS AN OLD gar­den favourite that has es­caped out the gate. It once held the sta­tus of be­ing one of the most pop­u­lar gar­den plants for its rapid growth and year-round bloom­ing habit, but its hardy habits now make it a pest, par­tic­u­larly in North­land, Auck­land, other parts (mainly coastal) of the North Is­land, and in the Nel­son re­gion.

Sweet pea shrub grows rapidly into a 2m (of­ten higher), multi-branched, rounded, ev­er­green shrub. It is densely clothed in at­trac­tive, yet un­re­mark­able, light green fo­liage. Young shoots have short, curly hairs.

Pur­ple, pea-like flow­ers, with green out­side petals, oc­cur year-round, fol­lowed by flat, heart-shaped seed cap­sules con­tain­ing hairy, dark brown seeds.

IT’S CON­FES­SION TIME. Some­times I make mis­takes. Ad­mit­tedly it doesn’t hap­pen very of­ten, but it does hap­pen.

Oc­ca­sion­ally I misiden­tify a weed. I was given a de­scrip­tion of it, I made a call and I fell into a trap for be­gin­ners, mix­ing up my lami­ums. I called red dead net­tle and it was ac­tu­ally hen­bit.

Red dead net­tle ( Lamium pur­pureum) is an an­nual weed found pretty much all over New Zealand, gen­er­ally in gardens and some­times in ce­real crops. It is a na­tive of Cen­tral Europe and Asia, but has ef­fec­tively spread through­out the world.

It’s a mem­ber of the mint fam­ily which in­cludes such no­ta­bles as mint, hen­bit, basil, oregano, thyme, and mar­jo­ram, which all sounds like the start­ing of a good pizza.

Lamium comes from the Greek word for throat which refers to the shape of the flow­ers, shaped a bit like an open throat. Pur­pureum is the Greek word for pur­ple which refers to the colour of the flow­ers. In much of the rest of the world this is ‘pur­ple dead net­tle’ but I think red dead net­tle sounds bet­ter.

The ‘dead net­tle’ part of the name is in­ter­est­ing too. They do kind-of look like a net­tle plant but with­out the sting, there­fore it’s a ‘dead’ net­tle. Get it?

As with nearly all mem­bers of the mint fam­ily, red dead net­tle is com­pletely ed­i­ble. It tastes good in a salad or stir-fry and the flow­ers are sweet.

Iden­ti­fy­ing it is usu­ally easy (stop judg­ing me!) but it does look very sim­i­lar to a num­ber of other weeds, and if they aren’t side by side it can be easy to mis­take it. It grows to around 20cm high and can ger­mi­nate at any time dur­ing the year. It pro­duces a num­ber of small stemmed, ser­rated-edged leaves that are green at the bot­tom of the plant and slightly pur­ple colour at the top of the plant. This is sim­i­lar to hen­bit leaves but the key dif­fer­ence is hen­bit leaves don’t have a leaf stalk.

At the top of the stem, the plant pro­duces a large num­ber of pretty lit­tle pur­ple flow­ers. This can be a mixed bag. Get it early and it’s easy. Get it late and it’s im­pos­si­ble.

Keep your crop or gar­den happy, healthy and com­pet­i­tive and you’ll stop it from get­ting a toe­hold. You can eas­ily pull it out by hand and that’s al­ways worked well for me.

On a large scale, most of the usual sus­pect chem­i­cal op­tions don’t have any ef­fect. You can use Bro­moxynil in ce­real crops, but be­yond that there isn’t much else.

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