Mulberry-weed is a nasty invasive

Published 10:43 am Thursday, September 17, 2015

Several weeks ago, a friend sent me a photo of a plant and asked what it was. I don’t always know the answer when I get a plant identification request, but I knew this one because it invaded my perennial beds several years ago and has been back every summer since then. It was mulberry-weed, also called hairy crabweed (Fatoua villosa). Yes, it’s a member of the mulberry family, but not a nice one.

Mulberry-weed is an annual that is native to East Asia where it typically grows along the side of roads, in cultivated fields and in open woods. It first appeared in the United States in Louisiana in the 1960s and was most frequently seen in greenhouses and nursery operations where it thrived in warm, moist growing conditions. By hitchhiking on consumer purchases, it’s now spread to home gardens and even some wooded areas where it has the potential to become invasive.

Mulberry-weed is an unassuming but tough plant. It has triangular shaped, toothed leaves that are fuzzy and arranged in an alternate pattern. It grows to be 2 – 2-1/2 feet tall. Beginning when mulberry-weed is about 2 inches tall, it produces tiny greenish to purplish flowers in the leaf axils from early summer throughout fall. The flowers are followed by seeds, which then produce more and more plants until an area is carpeted with mulberry-weed.

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How to control this plant? Hand pull plants, preferably before they set seeds, and promptly bag and dispose of them. To help prevent the germination of new seedlings, mulch the area with 1-1/2 – 2 inches of pine bark. And then be vigilant — very vigilant. As soon as you find new plants, remove and dispose of them.

Mulberry-weed is a true garden thug. I hope you never encounter it in your garden or in the woods.

CYNTHIA WOOD, a master gardener, writes two columns for The Herald. Her email address is