OMG! There’s Buttonweed Fouling My Beautiful Lawn! (And my beautiful garbage dump)

09 Nov

Virginia Buttonweed

Diodia virginiana


Today John and George visited the Palm Beach County Solid Waste Authority, a dump with benefits: a network of nature trails and ponds and fun times communing with wetland plants and a sunbathing gator.  CLICK for a cyber-visit to the landfill.

As a fan of this native wetland gem, I am dismayed that the suburban lawn-culture has turned Virginia Buttonweed into a reviled hate-weed.  Is the most interesting thing about a wildflower which carcinogen to spray on it?   Spray HERE to glimpse the horror!.

Or go read the garden blogs—you’d think VBW was the Crack of Lawn Doom.  So then to join the ranks of condescending blog-pundits holding forth on what to do if Buttonweed affliction keeps you awake at night: Enjoy it!  (Then turn down the sprinklers.)

VBW is native across much of the eastern U.S. and extends into South America, its spread conceivably aided by migrating waterfowl.  The plant can repopulate from busted fragments, and Canada Geese reportedly eat it. Perhaps they are travel agents, sharing the beauty from golf course to golf course.  Also, the little barrel-shaped fruits become corky and float away.  Today was a good monsoon day for that.  Did I mention that the species is semi-aquatic, probably adapted to wet disturbed shores where floating matters?

In recent times Virginia Buttonweed has turned into a weedy turf pest in the Southeastern U.S., and far beyond, including Asia.  Why has this cute little puppy become a bad dog?  Well, it’s adapted to intermittently wet disturbed sunny places with impaired drainage.  In other words, stream banks, marshy fields, and suburban lawns on compacted soil soused with automatic sprinklers.

Diodia virginiana yesterday (JB)

Diodia virginiana yesterday (JB)

Among the plant’s odd adaptations are two features sometimes found in other members of the Coffee Family.  First, the tissues contain tiny acid needles probably there to minimize grazing. (Even if the needles do not bother a Goose, they might discourage insects.)  Secondly, around the stem at each node there is a saclike membrane (a specialized stipule).  The membrane is a translucent ziplock bag that holds water around the developing young flowers, around the young fruits, and possibly around tender points of root origin.  The plant can (as I speculate!) collect and retain moisture around its key parts during dry moments in its amphibious life cycle.  No wonder it likes those lawn sprinklers.  CLICK this link to see the membrane in Diodia (teres) as the white cup with fingers on the rim, surrounding the base of the flower.  Having a similar adaptation and even more prevalent in Florida turf is Mexican-Clover (Richardia grandiflora).

This little wildflower is one tough customer.  It can regrow from it own fragments.  The stem sprouts roots where it contacts the ground.  There is a report of deeply buried seeds sprouting, this being perhaps an adaptation to being covered in silt?  And most intriguingly, the species reputedly forms underground flowers, a feat (if accurate) it shares with its fellow-member of the Coffee Family, Innocence (Houstonia procumbens) and with other unrelated local species, such as Blue Maidencane Grass.  In the old sketch below, it looks like the bottom-most fruits might have been in the mud.

Sketch from the Internet.  Selected to show the lowdown flowers (fruits).

Sketch from the Internet. Selected to show the lowdown flowers (fruits).

You may ask yourself, “what has this creepy plant got to do with coffee?”  Glad you asked:  it is fun to find out the family relationships of familiar plants, because then family resemblance shine through.  Look how similar the Virginia Buttonweed blossom is to the Coffee flower.  The Buttonweed fruit even looks like a little coffee bean.

All in the family:  Buttonweed flowers looks similar to related coffee flower.

All in the family: Buttonweed flowers looks similar to related coffee flower.

Coffee flower (from Top Tropicals plant nursery)

Coffee flower (from Top Tropicals plant nursery)


Posted by on November 9, 2013 in Virginia Buttonwood


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7 responses to “OMG! There’s Buttonweed Fouling My Beautiful Lawn! (And my beautiful garbage dump)

  1. SmallHouseBigGarden

    November 9, 2013 at 10:31 am

    very interesting! You’re pretty much educating me on my entire yard! Thank you!

  2. George Rogers

    November 9, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    Thanks. If you like weeds, come see my yard, it would be an entire year’s study 😦

  3. Martin

    November 10, 2013 at 8:30 am

    Very nice post, George. I love it when your crazy-writing-juices get going!

  4. Mary Hart

    November 11, 2013 at 3:44 am

    Very interesting – in Uk there is now a strong movement to create nature reserves on landfill sites, which has proved beneficial to many species of rare plants and animals. Gardeners are being encouraged to make wild flower “meadows” of parts of their lawn or large garden.

  5. George Rogers

    November 11, 2013 at 11:17 am

    And extremely interesting Mary. No doubt there is far less space for landfills in the UK than here. (In FL we can always just encroach more on the Everglade area and environs.) Our local most-recently-capped landfill is a park dominated with athletic fields (and maybe golf?). Not entirely satisfactory and still draining huge quantities of leachates deepwell injected into the lower aquifer. When I was a student I lived literally next door to the local landfill which likewise was converted to a recreational park with no users, due to the fact that it remains too much like a dump complete with the odor, gases, sinking soil, drainage, litter, and dust. Interestingly, a nasty controversial old landfill in North Miami that went through a couple different phases, complete with toxic medical waste, now has condos on it. (Expensive area no matter what lies below.) Closer to the nature reserve concept, I’m familiar with a landfill in suburban Los Angeles that was converted to an attractive botanical garden. You know, I think the U.K. has just enough love of nature to tilt the balance toward the nature reserve concept. That seems to sort of go against the municipal-county DNA around here. I always thought those giant artificial mountains would make great ski, skate board, soapbox derby, waterslide, sled parks, complete with power-assist back to the top. You may be familiar with what happened in Barbados back when we both lived “in the area.” They ran out of landfill space and had to use a national park in the Scotland District to replace the filled-up “Mt. Stinkeroo.”

  6. FeyGirl

    November 11, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Wonderful!! My neighbor and I are great fans of these little fairy-flowers. Of course, we also plant lots of natives to try to diminish the need for the ridiculous, unnatural SOD… 🙂

  7. George Rogers

    November 11, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Great idea. I have to keep my small front yard looking “proper” for that nasty HOA vigilante on a golf cart. But I just can’t bring myself to go against Mother Nature in the interest of a lawn to be proud of. (I’m kinda proud of no toxins, and I actually enjoy the weeds.) Someday maybe we’ll reach a point of horticultural benevolence when the perfect turf lawn is not a Florida goal. (Hey, it did not used to be, and in the Caribbean from which I migrated to come here, the only fancy lawns were at the estates of fancy folks living far removed from local reality.) What we have to do here to pursue that goal is just plain nuts! (My HOA would disagree.) And the world really does not need zillions of gallons fo atrazine and 2,4-D in the aquifers, especially when there’s no “we have to grow crops to eat” other-side-of-the coin. If I ever get around to it, I have a mental plan to establish a “native grasses” gardeny-prairie sort of weed patch behind my house. (But that takes work.)


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