The Triffid

by Kieran Healy on June 24, 2007

Because I have no talent for or interest in it, I have been putting off dealing with my garden—or yard, as we say in America. Although the landscaping is now on the domestic agenda, it may have been a serious error to wait so long. Because, over the past few months, this … thing … has grown up with astonishing rapidity by the side of my house, next to the A/C unit. It has become known as The Triffid. It is now about ten feet tall. Here’s a set of pictures showing its leaves and little tubular yellow flowers in more detail. It has recently acquired a little brother a few feet away.

For those of you who don’t know, I live in Tucson. Given how little water we have falling out of the sky around here, it disturbs me that anything so ugly could grow quite so big, quite so fast. (I feel the same way about Phoenix.) My question to the more horticulturally informed amongst you is, What the hell is it? And when the answer is, inevitably, “Giganticus Weedus Noxiensis,” tell me what combination of axe, chemicals and Wagner will be required to get rid of it.

Update: Another victory for the Digital Barbarians of the LazyWeb. Correctly identified within three comments as Tree Tobacco, Nicotiana Glauca, and subsequently followed by helpful information on how to deal with it (and likely consequences of ignoring it).

{ 48 comments }

1

Slocum 06.25.07 at 12:23 am

But we have gardens here, too. The formula is basically:

yard = lawn + garden

But sorry — no idea what the Tiffid.

2

Kieran Healy 06.25.07 at 12:26 am

Lawns are to be avoided in Tucson. Too water-intensive.

3

jeff 06.25.07 at 12:32 am

4

Jonathan 06.25.07 at 12:35 am

Lem has an amusing line about triffids and the excess of the Anglo-American science fictional imagination.

5

jim 06.25.07 at 12:42 am

Whatever it is, I’m sure a chainsaw will deal with it.

6

Gene O'Grady 06.25.07 at 12:44 am

Lawns are to be avoided as too water intensive in Oregon as well as Arizona.

But the basic point that yard and garden are not synonymous and frequently coexist near the same house is completely valid. In fact, we’ve spent much of the afternoon planning how best to put a garden in our yard. The fund-raising garden tour from the local community college always does that, plus a daughter who wants to grow herbs.

7

Kieran Healy 06.25.07 at 12:46 am

OK, yard it is.

8

Kieran Healy 06.25.07 at 12:46 am

Whatever it is, I’m sure a chainsaw will deal with it

I don’t know. It may have figured out a way to live directly off of the electricity line to the A/C unit.

9

Quo Vadis 06.25.07 at 12:54 am

I’d guess that even in Tucson A/C units dribble a little condensation. It’s probably living on that.

10

P O'Neill 06.25.07 at 1:02 am

How long before someone suggests that scourge of liberals, DDT?

11

Anderson 06.25.07 at 1:09 am

Dynamite should do the trick nicely.

12

Mr and Mrs Brainsample 06.25.07 at 1:11 am

Try eating it!

13

amy newell 06.25.07 at 1:21 am

Your Triffid is tree tobacco, nicotiana glauca, see pix here. Poisonous, attracts hummingbirds, self-sows readily (i.e. more little brothers on the way, especially if you let this one go to seed this year), and can be used to make insecticide. Invasive, so feel no guilt attempting to get rid of it.

14

gordon 06.25.07 at 1:29 am

I’m guessing Datura (maybe Datura inoxia).

15

Henry (not the famous one) 06.25.07 at 1:37 am

As a kid growing up in D.C. in the 1960s I once encountered a “lawn” in some stranger’s suburban yard that was made up of green spray-painted pebbles, more neon than Kelly IIRC. Even way back then the story was circulating that this was all that some people in Phoenix were allowed–but what was this thing doing in D.C.? Now, of course, I’d look on it as either advanced xericulture or some Christo-style installation. Dry wit in either case.

16

grackle 06.25.07 at 1:38 am

Actually, I’ve seen large specimens in Bisbee that were quite attractive. Maybe more refined, i.e. the flowers were a bit more developed. One of a couple of nicotianas that grow around Tucson; the other is a small (20-24″)native called desert tobacco (Nicotiana obtusifolia) Yours is a South American native, an illegal immagrant I guess.

17

grackle 06.25.07 at 1:39 am

immigrant

18

Kieran Healy 06.25.07 at 1:51 am

Thanks for the information! Definitely Tree Tobacco. And definitely not for eating: poisonous if ingested. The shovel and axe are coming out of the garage, I think.

19

brkily 06.25.07 at 1:52 am

this thing is your friend. just trim it to keep it from blocking the air intake for your air conditioner. the shade it cteates will make your place more comfortable and save on your electric bill.

20

harry b 06.25.07 at 1:54 am

I think slocum’s wrong (but I’m just going from observed use, so I may be wrong). This is how I’ve always understood it:

Garden (UK and, I imagine, Irish English) = Yard (US English) = Lawn + Garden (UK English).

(ie, Garden, in UK English, has two meanings).

21

JP Stormcrow 06.25.07 at 1:57 am

There is in fact a precedent, and it prescribes the tool to use. I don’t know if MB is around to defend himslef, but he can surely provide you the gory details.

22

Slocum 06.25.07 at 2:15 am

I think slocum’s wrong (but I’m just going from observed use, so I may be wrong). This is how I’ve always understood it.

Maybe my formula was too terse. In the U.S., the whole bit of property behind your house is the back yard. It may be entirely lawn or, rarely, it may be entirely garden, but usually it is some combination (mostly lawn with patches of flower and vegetable garden here and there). Other options that might take up bits of your yard would be ‘water gardens’ and even ‘rock gardens’. A garden is planted, harvested, weeded, etc — a lawn is just mowed.

And ‘yard work’ (meaning lawn and bushes) is more often a male task, whereas gardening is female. Fancy riding lawnmowers and hedge trimmers and weed-whackers (the more power the better) are advertised to men on sports shows. Fancy gardening clogs and trowels and gloves and potting benches are advertised to women…in the mass of catalogs that clog our mailbox every April.

So Kieran is fitting right in — in the U.S., it would ordinarily be a male task to get rid of a poisonous, invasive tree (preferably with a chain-saw).

23

Barry 06.25.07 at 2:23 am

“Dynamite should do the trick nicely.”
Posted by Anderson

Dynamite is for liberal islamohomoenvironaziliberalfascististas.

Besides, it’ll just make the plant mad.

Try a low-yield nuclear weapon.

If that doesn’t work, get one of those 57-megaton Russkie jobs, and try that.

24

Matt Weiner 06.25.07 at 3:33 am

I was hoping it would turn out to be Giant Hogweed.

25

jeff 06.25.07 at 3:45 am

to erradicate

if you have a liberal arts background, use salt water

if you have a scientific background, use a pick to root out the big one and try roundup for the small one.

26

jeff 06.25.07 at 4:25 am

re: update

1. it always amazes me that established bloggers don’t use google to answer inuitively obvious posed questions – yours: “plants of tucson” + images

2. instant internet qratification – from the UA, go north on campbell 3 miles, turn east just before you hit the rillito river, and you get to UA extension. bring a sample of the triffid with you. there you will find experts who will tell you exactly what you have and what do do about it. you will feel a sense of accomplishment and become a better person for it :)

27

Dave 06.25.07 at 4:36 am

As noted although its a weed it might help lower the old a/c induced electric bill by providing some shade. If you’re neighbours are not complaining I’d just cut it back. You’ll likely have to do it quite often but you’ll be offically gardening (although its a weed). In my house unless I can eat it everything gets called a weed (weed or vegetable?).

28

Gene O'Grady 06.25.07 at 4:55 am

By the way, what is the Latin for “giant noxious weed?” Or is the plant/weed distinction characteristic of certain cultures or eras and not others?

29

FreakyBeaky 06.25.07 at 6:28 am

How long before someone suggests that scourge of liberals, DDT?

Depends on how long it takes for someone who thinks DDT is a weed killer to show up.

DDT – great in small quantities to kill mosquitos for a long, long time; piss poor for killing weeds.

30

Harald Korneliussen 06.25.07 at 6:45 am

P O’Neill, an insecticide on a plant? Well, I don’t doubt the DDT nuts would try…

Jeff, has image search progressed to the point that you can submit an image of a plant and get the name? I spent hours googling for a programming something called “twill”, which I couldn’t remember the name of. No luck. Asked at the Python newsgroup, answer within minutes.

31

Richard W. Crews 06.25.07 at 7:09 am

If you don’t have kids, I think you should leave it. Any plant that sequesters carbon, makes oxygen, gives shade, and lives off ambient water is doing a great job.

32

abb1 06.25.07 at 8:22 am

…Tree Tobacco, Nicotiana Glauca…

When ATF agents show up and shoot your dog, get down on the ground, hands behind your head. Do not speak unless ordered to.

33

bad Jim 06.25.07 at 9:55 am

John Dowland, “Clear or cloudy”:

And let your weeds lack dew and duly starve

34

Chris Bertram 06.25.07 at 10:04 am

Had a similar experience with _solanum crispum_ , another South American climber. Bits of it are still hanging off the upper storey of my house because I don’t have a ladder long enough.

35

mollymooly 06.25.07 at 12:59 pm

#26.1: the measure of success as a blogger is that it’s quicker to ask a question on your blog and wait for your devoted readership to answer than to do the do the tiresome googling yourself.

#1, 6, 20, 22, 33: the garden/yard thing definitely calls for some Venn diagrams.

In the US, is the lawn really not part of the garden? And the rock garden is not part of the garden but the vegetable garden is? Weird. What about the swimming pool?
Then, in the UK, is the drive part of the front garden? What if you pave over the entire front garden: is it still the garden? If you move into a newly-built house without landscaping and show guests the brown patch out back, do you say “that’s the garden”, or “that’s where the garden will be”? Is the patio in the garden or of the garden?
And is a garden gnome the same as a lawn elf?

36

aaron 06.25.07 at 1:12 pm

Smoke it?

37

SamChevre 06.25.07 at 1:17 pm

And what “yard” means varies from place to place withing the US too. To me, a yard has a fence around it–so people wuite often have a lawn, only part of which is a yard. Of course, older people have “yards” that are just bare, swept dirt.

38

mds 06.25.07 at 1:27 pm

it disturbs me that anything so ugly could grow quite so big, quite so fast. (I feel the same way about Phoenix.)

You’ve done an great job adapting to Tucson. That’s a superb example of trash talk about the Valley.

I’d guess that even in Tucson A/C units dribble a little condensation.

In fact, given the swamp coolers that add vital humidity, it’s more accurate to say “especially in Tucson.” And hasn’t there been a bit more rain than usual down that way? I’m surprised that southeastern Arizona isn’t engulfed in swiftly-growing mutant plants.

39

Kieran Healy 06.25.07 at 2:13 pm

“it always amazes me that established bloggers don’t use google to answer inuitively obvious posed questions – yours: “plants of tucson” + images

You try that (as I in fact did) and see how many pictures you get. If you already know what it is, there’s no problem. But otherwise, no.

You’ve done an great job adapting to Tucson. That’s a superb example of trash talk about the Valley.

Yeah, I couldn’t resist.

40

James Wimberley 06.25.07 at 3:38 pm

What’s the creationist take on weeds? Did Nicotiana Glauca etc flourish in the Garden (paradise) of Eden, and if so what kept them under control? Or were weeds, like Guinea worms, GM’d by Satan after the fall?

41

a 06.25.07 at 4:22 pm

Maybe you should climb it, retrieve the hen which lays golden eggs, and kill the giant before you cut it down?

42

Linkmeister 06.26.07 at 12:28 am

I was wishing Google had an image match search just this weekend for a similar problem. I can imagine how difficult it would be to write something like that, but boy howdy would it be useful.

Ours turned out to be an African tulip (we think; tree guy is coming tomorrow to confirm).

43

tony 06.26.07 at 1:18 am

i am surprised i am the only one who knows this: if you pluck out the golden flower from the green cup, you can suck out a drop of sweet nectar from the bottom of the flower. one drop per flower.

44

Kevin 06.26.07 at 1:49 pm

Day of the Triffids gave me my only repeating nightmares as a kid. No chainsaws, it will kill you! Shhhhhh….

45

mds 06.26.07 at 4:16 pm

Or were weeds, like Guinea worms, GM’d by Satan after the fall?

This is a bit of a clichéd observation, but “GM’d by Satan” belongs on a T-shirt.

46

nick s 06.26.07 at 5:13 pm

In the U.S., the whole bit of property behind your house is the back yard.

And since it hasn’t been clarified, the British ‘yard’ (esp. back yard) is an area without planted greenery of any kind.

47

J Thomas 06.26.07 at 8:20 pm

I’d guess that even in Tucson A/C units dribble a little condensation.

In fact, given the swamp coolers that add vital humidity, it’s more accurate to say “especially in Tucson.”

If the roots can find a leaky water pipe, or even better a leaky sewer pipe, the tree can grow very, very fast. It will of course do its best to force more roots deeper into the pipe until it starts to clog it.

48

Ben 06.26.07 at 9:56 pm

Get rid of it and plant something nicer. You can ask the people at Native Seeds on 4th Av. Or plant bougainvillea – it’s not native to the Sonoran desert, but it grows well, likes a lot of sun, doesn’t need much water, provides some shade, and is attractive, unlike triffids. I have some alongside my house in Tucson and it does very well. It looked dead after the winter frost, but after being cut back to the roots, is now growing back very enthusiastically.

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