What (K)not to Love?
By MaryAnn Fink,
Pollinator Junction/Life Exhibit Curator
“Bee”ing a steward of the land is relationship based. Too often as I’ve meandered thru the inspired space at the pollinary park I am task oriented. I confess sometimes slide past the awesome multifunctional beauty of the flowers of relatively small contributors, dismissed as common, and often considered weedy, Pinkweed.
She is also called pink knotweed and pink smartweed. Botanically she’s Polygonatum pennsylvanica, previously Persicaria pennsylvanica.
There are estimates of over 200 species of these smartweeds and knotweeds worldwide and many are found in Missouri. These knotweeds, smartweeds, include familiar names like buckwheat, rhubarb, sorrel and heart’s ease and are are all part of her large and diverse family. Whether a member is shrub, perennial, herb, vegetable or annual, they all are tough, sometimes vigorous, and occasionally unwanted and challenging to eliminate.
This “smart” Missouri native is an annual and she can grow just about anywhere. She’s not really choosy with the amount of light she prefers except she doesn’t like heavy consistent shade.
She grows fine in everything from light shade to full sun. She is often on roadway sidelines, or she’s the pretty one waving in the breeze as she beautifies the upper edge of a swale or drainage ditch.
She has height confusion. She can “bee” anywhere from 12″ to over 30″ but most frequently she is on the stout side when she flowers due to a high chance of midseason mow cut or brush hogging which will shorten her bloom height and delay flowering a few weeks.
She is usually thin and only occasionally branched. She has a lovely upright posture unless she’s seeking the sun in a bit too shady of spot–she will start to lean if she needs more sun!
Her stems are a youthful spring green even late into the season and she has this cute way of zigzagging between each leaf node. Sometimes there is a blush of red at the leaf joint where it slightly cinches in as if she needed to define her multiple waistlines! Nothing extreme, just a pinch narrower but it does make her seem even more girly in a way!
Her pointed leaves are a dark green and can be over 6″ long and 2″ across. They are usually smooth like shaved summer legs or at most just a bit of baby fuzz. The tiny hairs border the leaf edges (oops you missed a spot!). Yes, some might say the leaves are just plain pretty but sometimes she wears a faint chevron that looks like a fingerprint that left a bruise midleaf!
Other common names for this smartweed are ‘Pinkweed’ and ‘Big-seeded Smartweed.’ Another scientific name of this plant is Polygonum pensylvanicum laevigatum
Pennsylvania Smartweed produces nectar and pollen. She attracts many kinds of pollinators including honeybees and bumblebees. The American Copper butterfly may use the foliage for raising her caterpillars as well! Any small bees and bee mimics that are active during her flowering are likely to enjoy either nectar and/or pollen. There is mention of hummingbirds visiting smartweeds as well. Perhaps smartweeds hide tiny insects that hummingbirds need!
What is the frown from caretaker’s about? Well some knotweeds are aggressive, deep rooted opportunists, many are smart enough to look pretty, many are edible and most are favorite pollinator plants!