Match Weed

17 Jun

(with many silly English names having to do with fogs, and frogs, turkeys, and tangled feet you see in books but never hear any real person use)

Phyla nodiflora (Lippia nodiflora)


Too hot and stormy for fieldtrips today, so John and I worked inside, where I learned a photo thing or two from the Master.

If you live in a warm region anywhere from West Palm Beach to India, chances are you can go outside and within a few minutes find Match Weed. There’s one near you.   This pantropical weed grows anywhere it is warmish and not too dry, including sun, shade, lousy turf, canal banks, mud flats, and on and on.   Some see it as a lawn replacement. Many see Phyla as a medicinal plant.   It is related to the natural sweetener Lippia dulcis. To others it is an invasive exotic menace.  Some sell it.  Some sell herbicides to destroy it.    And speaking of toxic herbicides, this plant makes its own to suppress the competition.  Is the species native to Florida?  Well, “native” is tough to pin down with worldwide weeds.

phyla jb

Photos, except microscope view, by John Bradford

This pretty plant is a mighty weed.   A horizontal running stem scoots across the ground like a road seen from a helicopter, every few inches producing nodes (nodiflora)  bearing a tuft of leaves, a cluster of roots, and a stalk a few inches tall with a compact flowering spike.   Each node can “stand alone” if the sprawling plant fragments, or the interlaced runners can carpet the ground as a single genetic individual.   Immortal.

If the weed decides to reproduce in a fashion besides fragmenting its stems, there is a plan B, plus a plan C to make baby Phylas.  Fog Fruits. Frog Fruits. Turkey Tanglefoots.

phyla nodiflora jb far

Plan B is good old-fashioned pollination.   This is a “textbook” butterfly-pollination species, supplemented by reported suspected pollination by bees and even by ants.  The anthers at the entrances to the teensie flowers near the ground are ant-accessible.   The spikes mature slowly from base to top, having old spent flowers below and unopened young buds above.    The flowers change color, as many blossoms do, first sporting a yellow eye, later transitioning to a purplish eye indicating altered nectar-availability status.

Plan C covers the contingency of no pollinators.  A handy skill for a mobile weed, the flowers can pollinate themselves without help, thank you very much, and make seeds independently.

Phyla nodiflora 3

Matchweed has matchless eco-superpowers.  It inhabits a sandy meadow behind my house,  and yet you could find some far away in a seasonal lake bottom,  or on nasty gypsum,  or most remarkably in salty  wetlands subject to occasional maritime flooding.  A study from California found Phyla exuberance enhanced by increasing salinity to a point.   The leaves have tiny salt-secretion glands.  Pass the salt!  No worries.

phyla hair

All aligned the same way, these bumpy anklebiters cover the underside of the leaf.   I am not sure, but the scattered small dots might (might) be the salt secretion glands.   Highly magnified microscope view.

Match Weed is not just a butterfly nectar plant, but also larval nursery for multiple species of lepidopterans, including the Common Buckeye Butterfly.   Maybe all those caterpillars help solve a mini-mystery.  On the undersides of the leaves are of specialized “hairs” all lined up in the same direction.  The hairs are roughly T-shaped, broad at the center, and tapering to a sharp point at each end.   Attached at the center they look much like the cleats used to secure a rope to the deck of a boat, if nautical cleats had wicked sharp ends.    Or maybe that twirly spinning sprayer thing on the floor of a dish washer. Weird, and scary looking.    Similar deterrents occur in other plant families, and are called “malpighiaceous hairs.”   In any case, a caterpillar cruising the leaf and munchin’ the free salad might get the point.


Posted by on June 17, 2016 in Phyla, Uncategorized


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17 responses to “Match Weed

  1. Martin

    June 18, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    George, another gem. The caterpillar “…might get the point.” Love it!

    There was a lil ditty when I was a kid, of course I can’t really remember how it went, but you ended up with that there Match Weed in the crook of your finger, and as you popped off the flower head with your thumb, you hollered out the last line: “And Mama said Off wit ‘is head!”

    My mother showed me that one.

    • George Rogers

      June 18, 2016 at 4:34 pm

      Marty, Exactly the addition this post needed. Gotta get the rest, or make it up. You know the dirty trick where you have your friend hide a dandelion flower on their body, then you use one with fuzz as dandelion “detector”?

      • Martin

        June 25, 2016 at 3:55 pm

        I’m afraid I’m ig-nernt of that one, and it sounds like a great joke to pull on the kids! Next chance we get, you show me that one and I’ll show ya how to fish for doodle-bugs.

        Lernt that from my ma, too.

      • George Rogers

        June 25, 2016 at 4:10 pm

        Martin, ok I’ll show you, but I’m warning you…it’s a dirty trick. I’d like to catch a doddlebug.

  2. theshrubqueen

    June 18, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    Wow, here I thought Marty Feldman was dead! Shockingly, I have never seen Match Weed, will have to keep a lookout.

    • George Rogers

      June 18, 2016 at 4:37 pm

      Amelia, You’ve seen it…it could be the official flower of Martin County. Bet there is some in your yard or the nearest puddle place water collects periodically. You just need to learn to love it…and make a floral arrangement with it in a pill bottle.

      • theshrubqueen

        June 18, 2016 at 5:11 pm

        Scruburbia, that is my yard. Not a puddle in sight. I will look harder! I am thinking a Pepto Bismol bottle for the arrangement. it will probably make me nauseous when I find there are 10,000 of them in my yard.

  3. George Rogers

    June 18, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    Your vases and bowls are usually exquisite, rare, and as enchanting as the flowers…but yea, if anybody can make match weed look good in a pepto bottle it would be you…but your loyal fan club may boo and hiss

  4. theshrubqueen

    June 18, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    George, the English ladies would looking for match weed.

  5. Suellen Granberry-Hager

    June 18, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    I like to think Matchweed is native. It makes me feel better about letting it wander around my weedy yard. (“This is actually a butterfly garden.”)

    • George Rogers

      June 18, 2016 at 11:12 pm

      Hi Suellen…well, the manual at my elbow says it is…no such thing as a weedy yard…there is St. Augustine displacement of natural butterfly gardens…

  6. Steve

    June 20, 2016 at 10:09 am

    Growing up in Miami, we called it Creeping Charlie, but I like Matchweed better. Those heads do look like match sticks.

    • George Rogers

      June 20, 2016 at 3:33 pm

      Ever see a plant with so many names? As a Michigander, the name Creeping Charley is taken….

  7. Singleton,Lloyd O

    June 23, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    We have a Master Gardener extraordinare in The Villages, FL that has successfully used Phylla nodiflora as a turf replacement. It’s beautiful!

    I so enjoy your blog posts. Keep ’em coming!

    Lloyd Singleton, Extension Agent I
    Florida-Friendly Landscaping™/Urban Horticulture
    UF/IFAS Sumter County
    (352) 689-4671

    The Foundation for The Gator Nation
    An Equal Opportunity Institution

    • George Rogers

      June 23, 2016 at 9:53 pm

      Thanks LLoyd, very interesting, George

  8. beth

    July 3, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Fair maidens with crowns of flowers on their heads.

    • George Rogers

      July 3, 2017 at 2:38 pm

      exactly so


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