Chickweed – how many kinds are there?

The wildedible website insists chickweed is edible and delicious. One version of this weed grew rampantly in my garden during early Spring. More recently I noticed another similar plant has more recently bushed out and plumped up – so when I found one of these plants in the Food Garden at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens I asked the Coordinator and was informed it was also a chickweed. Despite my not eating my own chickweeds this time around, all the plants have gone – gone to be composted – but next year I will use them regularly in salads. The wildedible site offers an informative video which clearly shows the leaves and flower and size of the chickweed; of the type that sprung madly early in Spring around my home.

The Tasmanian government’s weed handbook contains 41 entries on chickweed. For example there is chickweed (Stellaria media), mouse-eared chickweed (Cerastium fontanum Bauamg. ssp. Vulgare), and sticky mouse-eared chickweed (Cerastium glomeratum Thuill.).  Then there is Montia fontana: ‘the seedling of montia resembles that of chickweed (Stellaria media), the mouse-ear chickweeds (Cerastium glomeratum and C. fontanum spp. vulgare), and scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis). Montia is completely hairless, does not have a mid-rib groove on the leaves, and has a broader petiole while chickweed has some hairs on the petiole and often on the base of the leaf, has a distinct groove along the base of the mid-rib, and has a very thin petiole. The mouse-ear chickweeds are distinguished from montia by their hairy leaves. Scarlet pimpernel has a kite-shaped cotyledon with a short merging petiole, and sessile leaves.’

Phew – doesn’t that make identification difficult! It leaves me wondering whether all of these weeds are deemed edible. Eat the Weeds provides a bread recipe for chickweed, and another for a chickweed and bacon pie. Usefully this site gives a list of ways to distinguish chickweeds from their lookalikes – ‘there are some reasonably close look-alikes, but three things separates chickweed from poisonous pretenders. First, it does not have milky sap. Next, it has one line of hairs on its stem that changes sides at each pair of leaves. And if you bend or crease the stem, rotate each end counter with each other, and pull gently the outer part of the stem will separated but the elastic inner part will not and you will have a stretched inner part between the two stem ends.’ The Good Life Revival site contains excellent photos which can also help with identification.

The Key to Tasmanian Vascular Plants shows and describes Chickweed. Pictures and details of the mouse-eared chickweeds can be found here. On this basis, I feel confident to identify my later developing chickweeds as of the mouse-eared variety and most likely to be Cerastium glomeratum- but, as I often say, more research is required.

By the way – I was staggered to learn the chickweed is a member of the carnation family. Apparently the leaves are toxic while the petals of carnations are edible, although the flower base below the petals is unpleasantly bitter so select with care!

Earlier in this blog post I remarked that all my chickweed were gone. Seasoned gardeners must have rolled their eyes in disbelief. Of course their thoughts were correct. Once I had written this post I walked around my garden looking for a chickweed to photograph. I found new and even well-established plants in multiple sites; in my persimmon orchard, in my lawn, around my cherry and almond trees, and elsewhere. Most were, what I deem to be, the Chickweed (Stellaria media).

I feel confident that the plant I lifted from my compost bin is a Sticky Mouse-Eared Chickweed (Cerastium glomeratum).

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