Native Quack Grass

Several years back, I was helping my neighbor across the street weed her yard.  Her sloping, wooded yard was terraced with Crab Orchard stone.  For those of you who don't live around here, Crab Orchard is a small community on the Cumberland Plateau, famous for the rare salmon pink stone quarried there.

My neighbor was a retired geneticist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.   In retirement, native flowering plants became her passion.  She ardently collected and planted them in the deep shade of her long, sloping rock gardens: trillium, Solomon's Seal, several varieties of ferns, wild geraniums and iris, Lenten Rose, dogwood, and truly wild gold and orange Roane Mountain azaleas and dusty pink rhododendrons.  

There was one native plant, however, that was not welcome in Mrs. Von Halle's garden:  Quack Grass.  It was Quack Grass that we were so industriously pulling as we talked that morning.   As we worked, she informed me not only of its common name, "Quack Grass",  but also its botanical name, which I have forgotten, as well as its habitats and the uses to which birds put it.  That morning, her yard, like mine, was over run with the stuff.

What my neighbor called "Quack Grass" seems to grow nearly everywhere around here and is impossible to eradicate.

Don't get me wrong.  Quack Grass isn't offensive.  It's not noxious, toxic or dangerous like poison ivy, which also grows in abundance in these East Tennessee mountains.  It's just a pest, pesky to gardeners, at any rate.

  Ducks, on the other hand, love the stuff.  As its name implies, it grows along the banks of rivers and creeks.  But it also thrives alongside dusty road sides in searing summer sun as well as in deep, cool shade such as that found in Mrs. Von Halle's wooded rock garden.


Quack Grass is so tenacious, abundant, and adaptive, I've wondered if it could not be harvested and converted into some industrial use.  Ethanol perhaps?  Rope or fabric?  Or processed and made fit for human consumption?  It's probably a vast reservoir of stored energy and nutrition.  (I've tried eating a blade or two myself: it's tough, not very tasty, and hard to swallow.)

*    *    *

As time has a habit of doing, it slipped away.  Mrs. Von Halle got too feeble to take care of her garden and moved to Kentucky.  Her once spectacular gardens are now all but completely obscured by thick, wiry Quack Grass.  And though my garden has never been spectacular, it has, on occasion, been pretty.  But over the years my interests have changed.  I've tended my garden less and less and as I look out the window, I behold my own private sea of Quack Grass.

 Right now, the Quack Grass is blooming with the tiniest of pink seed pods and scattering them prolifically for next year's crop.  By December, its green leafy blades will have turned brown and died back for the winter.   


The quack grass is blooming with tiny pink pods

 That scatter their seeds where I wish they would not

It sprouts everywhere there's a square inch of dirt

Takes over my garden and smothers the herbs

Thriving in sun or deep shade of woods

Once it takes hold,  you've got it for good

You can pull it and mow it right down to the ground

Though you needn't bother, it always rebounds

But, what I call a pest, the ducks call a nest

And where I see a weed, the ducks see a feast

Quacking and strutting and gobbling it down

There must be some virtue that I haven't found

In the quack grass that's blooming with tiny pink pods

That scatter their seeds where I wish they would not


Be Well and Good Luck,

Martha Maria 


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