Grim headline from the world of godless devil weeds: There’s a new aggressive invasive plant headed our way. It goes by different names, like a criminal on the lam: Palmer’s amaranth. Palmer’s Pigweed. Or carelessweed. Which sets it apart from your detail-oriented weeds, I guess.
Before you shrug and say, “Eh. Quack grass, spurge, what’s another useless plant,” keep in mind that the weed can grow to be 7 feet tall. That is not a weed. That is a tree. But we can’t say we’ve been invaded by aggressive trees because then people think of those nasty guys from “Wizard of Oz,” walking down the street three abreast, forcing mothers with strollers to go into the grass.
If you’re wondering what it looks like, here’s a description of the leaves from the scientific journals: “long-petiolate; blade obovate or rhombic-obovate to elliptic proximally, sometimes lanceolate distally.” Mind you, sometimes.
Farm folk already know about this weed and live in dread of little Jimmy running up to the house shouting, “Ma! Pa! There’s rhombic-obovate leaves in the back 40!”
“Oh, Jimmy, you’re letting your imagination run away with you. Last week it was short petiolate leaves with a hairy stem, and now this. It’s those comic books, I do declare. Fill your head with nonsense.”
“No, honest, Ma. And it’s proximally elliptic!”
“Hush! You’re going to wake the goats. Now wash up, it’s time for supper.”
And then a month later, the entire farm is choked with pigweed and the family is bankrupt because nothing grows. Seriously, this happens. This is a bully weed that shows up and asks if it can crash on your sofa, invites all its miserable friends, throws loud parties, gets you evicted, then squats in the apartment until the cops come. It laughs at herbicides. It dreams of the day the skies rain Drano. It grows in the cracks of the cement dome placed over the Chernobyl reactor. If you set it on fire, the smoke heads right for babyies’ cribs.
Fun fact: One weed can produce between 500,000 and 1 million seeds. We know what you’re thinking — on Father’s Day, the phone never stops ringing. But at a million seeds per weed, even if 1 percent take purchase and germinate, it means that by 2056 Minnesota will consist of nothing but Palmer Amaranths from the Iowa border to Canada. You’ll hear of desperate last-chance fights up around Warroad or International Falls — crackly radio dispatches from the National Guard filled with sounds of flame throwers, some horrible screams, then static and silence. “Gentlemen, they were our last hope. Tell the president, and may God have mercy on our souls.”
It does have one weakness. It’s edible. American Indians ate it, cooked or dried. It can be bad for people with bum kidneys, and it can be poisonous to livestock, because it’s basically a sociopath. But maybe if we start eating it again, it’ll back off. “Sure, you’re aggressive. But we have stoves and teeth. Once we call you locally sourced and indigenously popular, you’ll be in demand in every chic eatery.”
If that doesn’t work, well, it’s from the south. If we lined the Iowa border with burnt, gutted Waffle Houses, it might get the message.