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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - July 29, 2013

From: Oxford, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Plant Identification
Title: Invasive spreading weed in Michigan that looks like a small pine tree
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have an invasive spreading weed in my gardens. It has black root system, comes up looking like a small pine tree. The green breaks off when you try to pull it.

ANSWER:

Michigan State University Extension Service has a list, Michigan Invasive Plant Species Accounts, of plants that have become invasive or have invasive tendencies in Michigan.  Michigan Invasive Plant Council (MIPC) shows the Federal Noxious Weeds list with Michigan invasive plants marked on the list.

Your description of a plant looking like a small pine, however, sounds like one of the native horsetails (Equisetum species).  There are two possibilities:

1.  Equisetum arvense (Field horsetail) is the most likelly possibility.  It has roots that are described by Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago as "pallid-brown, or red brown, or black".  It also has underground stems (rhizomes) that are "dull brown".

Michigan State University describes it as "a weed of landscape beds and low-lying areas."  Oregon State University offers strategies for controlling field horsetail and here is more information about controlling it from Penn State Extension and the Pacific Northwest Weed Management Handbook.

2.  Equisetum sylvaticum (Woodland horsetail) is another possibility.   Here is more information from Rook.org.

The Family Equisetaceae (Horsetail Family) are non-flowering plants that reproduce by spores.  There are a couple of non-native flowering plants that could possibly be the plant you describe.

3.  Tanacetum vulgare (Common tansy) is a native of Europe and has fern-like leaves that could be interpreted as looking like a small pine.  I could find no mention of black roots.  Here are more photos and information from Robert W. Freckman Herbarium, University of Wisconsin.  It is listed as invasive or noxious weed in Montana, Minnesota and California, among others.

4.  Echium vulgare (Viper's bugloss), a native of Europe and Asia, is reported to have black roots and is reported invasive in the northeastern United States, but it doesn't look particularly like a small pine to me.  Here are more photos and information from Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide.  The Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS) from Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States shows it occurring in Oakland County.

You don't mention flowers.  Your plant will eventually have flowers unless it is one of the horsetails or other non-flowering plants such as a fern.  If it is a flowering plant, when the flowers do appear it will be easier to identify.  If you still can't identify it after it blooms, you should photograph it and visit our Plant Identification page to find links to several plant identification forums that will accept photos of plants for identification.   Be sure to read the Important Notes on that page before submitting your photographs to any of the plant identification forums.

 

From the Image Gallery


Field horsetail
Equisetum arvense

Field horsetail
Equisetum arvense

Woodland horsetail
Equisetum sylvaticum

Woodland horsetail
Equisetum sylvaticum

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