Essays - by Stephen G. Saupe, Ph.D.; Biology Department, College of St. Benedict/St. John's University, Collegeville, MN 56321;;

Winter Weeds


Stephen G. Saupe, Ph.D.
Biology Department
College of St. Benedict/St. John�s University
Collegeville, MN  56321

    There is no reason for a plant lover to go dormant in the winter like our green friends.  Herbaceous plants can be readily identified by their winter �skeletons.�  This guide provides a very brief overview of winter weed identification.  So, what should you look for?

I.  Plant Growth Form (habit)

  • Height - (i.e., tall, short)

  • Mode (i.e., upright, prostrate, vines)

  • Branching pattern (i.e., unbranched, branched)

  • General shape (i.e., wand-like, elm-like, flat-topped)

II.  Habitat (i.e., where does it grow? prairie, roadside, swamp, bog, wood edge, forest) 

III.  Underground Structures

  • Roots - type (i.e., taproot, fibrous, tuberous)

  • Stems � rhizomes, bulbs, corms (shape, color, texture)

IV.  Stem

  • Shape (i.e., round, square, five-angled)

  • Color

  • Odor

V.  Leaves

  • Attachment (i.e., alternate, opposite, whorled)

  • Position (i.e., cauline, basal)

  • Texture (i.e., smooth, hairy)

  • Type (i.e., simple, dissected, compound) 

VI.  Inflorescence type (i.e., spike, umbel, raceme, panicle, head) 

VII.  Flower remnants (i.e., sepals, bracts, receptacles, ovary) 

VIII. Fruit

  • type (i.e., capsule, achene, hip, berry, drupe, grain)

  • texture (i.e., smooth, hairy, spiny)

  • color

IX.  Seeds

  • Shape (i.e., round, flat, triangular)

  • Color

  • Texture (i.e., smooth, ridged, hairy, spiny)


  • Levine, Carol.  1995.  A Guide to Wildflowers in Winter.  Yale University Press, New Haven.

  • Embertson, Jane.  1979.  Pods.  Wildflowers and Weeds in Their Final Beauty.  Charles Scribner�s, NY.

  • Brown, L.  1976.  Weeds in Winter.  WW Norton & Company, NY.

  • Roberts, June Carver. 1993.  Season of promise: Wild Plants in Winter in NE US.  Ohio University  Press, Athens.

Matching:  Can you match the plant with its common name?  (this was part of a presentation for the Audubon Society  in which dried weeds labeled with their scientific name were available for study) 

_______Blazing star
_______Blue lobelia
_______Bush honeysuckle
_______Culver�s root
_______Deptford pink
_______Ditch stonecrop
_______Evening primrose
_______Geum or Avens
_______Giant blue hyssop
_______Goat�s beard
_______Hoary alyssum
_______Indian pipe

_______Large-flowered beardtongue
_______Narrow-leafed cattail
_______New Jersey tea
_______Ostrich fern
_______Pearly everlasting
_______Penny cress
_______Prairie onion
_______Rigid-leafed goldenrod
_______Self heal (Heal all)
_______Sensitive fern
_______Sleepy catchfly
_______Spotted ironweed


_______Great St. John�s wort
_______Common St. John�s wort
_______Stinging Nettle
_______Swamp milkweed
_______Water plantain
_______White campion (Bladder  campion)
_______Wild bergamot



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