What did I plant in my vegetable garden?

mystery-veggie2.jpg mystery-veggie1.jpg
(Click on thumbnails for enlargement)

I have a couple of plants in my vegetable garden and I don't know what they are. I'm sure somebody knows.


  1. The one on the left looks a little like a bougainvillea shoot that started in my garden last year.

  2. I’m not sure what part of the planet you are farming on, but it reminds me of a thistle, though not like the ones we have in Mississippi I’m aware of. Perhaps some sort of broad leaf weed?

  3. I’ve been sitting behind my computer for too long to recall for sure, but to me these look suspiciously like plants.

  4. One thing to do is look at the area around where you have tilled and planted. I assume you tilled this area up? And are just using the plain dirt and not spreading out sterile potting soil? If you see some plants like this growing in the surrounding area it might be a weed.

    It sounds like you just planted seeds and you think this is what came up from the seeds? When I plant stuff like tomatoes and squash and peppers and such I start them in seeding pots and transplant the seedlings so I at least know what’s what.

  5. It looks like chard, specifically green chard. I’d have to see the stems to be sure.

  6. Looks to me like you got yourself some tobacco.

    Here’s an image for reference. More here.

    To be certain, you’re going to have to do a taste test on the leaf.

    1) spinach/lettuce == yummy
    2) tabacco == ashtray
    3) rhubarb == dead

    have fun!

  7. Watch out for the intelligent stingers when they grow up. Those triffids can blind a man!

  8. hard to tell when so young. How about publishing progress photos every few days and we’ll make it a contest to see who can identify it first?

  9. It looks a bit like burdock to me. If that’s the case, apparently the taproot is edible. And, based on my experience, it creates lovely purple-y thistle-like flowers in one of its two years of existence.

  10. Could it be mint? It doesn’t have the characteristic “hairy leaves” but who knows…

    Taste it! then you’ll know… or die…

  11. So this is what happens when you ask the Internet a question. Your neighbor or best friend is probably just as reliable. Just ask them.

  12. It’s growing really low to the ground, but the leaves and buds almost look like it could be eggplant.

  13. I’m with Takuan on this, still kind of early. Mmmmmm Takuan, pickled vegetables with some hot rice, must be time to start dinner.

  14. Ooh a mystery! I can tell you that it’s not chard, spinach, or a brassica. It’d be helpful to know where you’re gardening at.

  15. If it is Burdock, it has lots of medicinal uses. I would say, let it flower & see what it does. Then you’ll be able to tell a lot easier.

  16. I’m gonna second the chard idea…or some kind of green. The flowers are throwing me off though. I guess I’d have to ask when you planted it and then I’d throw out another nonsense answer. Does your garden have any logic to it? Did you plant all edible greens together?

    Taste it. I just sampled some New Zealand Spinach and red clover from last year’s field…mmm.mmm. good.

  17. It doesn’t have the characteristic “hairy leaves”

    Technically, that would be ‘pubescent’.

  18. It doesn’t look like an edible green to me, and it’s definitely not chard. Chard has long shiny stems that all originate at the ground level, prominent veins in the leaves, and no fuzz (closely related to beets and their greens). Most eating greens don’t have fuzz, actually, except for some mustards.

    Because of the fuzz, the big buds, and the sturdy stalk, I might guess that it would produce some sort of fruit (not eggplant, though). Honestly though it looks like overgrown weeds. Maybe a wildflower book could help you out?

  19. Burdock sounds reasonable but it also looks like it could be a variety of eggplant. I’d be more sure if the flowers in pic 1 were blooming (eggplant has five pointed purple or white flowers whose petals are joined together).

    It’s definitely not a green or chard. This plant has hairs on the leaves, chard and greens (kale, collards, etc) have smooth leaves which grow on stems longer and broader than those in the pictures.

    BTW, Your soil looks like it could use a little help. I highly recommend sheet mulching in the fall to kill off the weeds — a few layers of mulch and newspaper/cardboard on top of the weeds (especially the bermuda grass) will starve weeds of light and the barrier of cardboard/newspaper will prevent the plants from reaching the light. By spring the barriers have become soil.

    You can add mulch any time. I just spread it on top of the soil and plant directly in the mulch. If your soil is like mine, it’s at least mildly hydrophobic (got mine tested at Wallace Laboratories http://www.bettersoils.com/). Mulch helps hold the moisture in place until it can penetrate the soil.

    I got mulch (in the Los Angeles area) from this guy Tim Dundon. $80 will get you a dumptruck full of composted horse bedding (mulch, horse manure and urine). http://www.2doo.com/ It’s really amazing stuff. I didn’t believe that things would really grow in just a mix of shredded trees and horse excrement. But they do and really well.

    I have also had great success this year trellising, with rope and various junk, my squash plants. Usually with squash, it’s a constant battle with fungus (doing it all organic) but it seems that if the plants aren’t sitting on the ground they stay healthier.

    gardens are rad.

  20. Oh my God – just taste it, man! The one on the left looks like basil. The one on the right looks like nothing I’ve ever sown or reaped, but hey – if it tastes good, stick it in a salad or a saute and call it a day.

  21. I though it might be potato but every potato plant I’ve ever seen had compound leaves. It could be a weed — Datura grows wild in the area.

    Be careful about picking unknown stuff and eating it. I agree with #34 Gabrielm, it’s probably a nightshade and most nightshades contain toxins which have to be dealt with through cooking or avoiding certain parts of the plant.

  22. I thought Datura was useful. Medicine, pesticide, poison, drug and ornament. Sort of like that biker chick you never had the nerve to ask out.

  23. I accidentally planted tomatoes and fennel in my garden (I think they got there via composted kitchen scraps).

  24. Here’s what it’s definitely NOT:

    1) Datura (I go past one every day on my way to work. Most of the cultivated Solanaceae (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, etc) have compound (or at least deeply lobed) leaves, and these leaves appear simple. It doesn’t particularly look like a nightshade either.
    2) Chard (in fact, I don’t recommend eating it)

    I kind of like the #42’s comment on borage, but if it is a borage, it should be really fuzzy.

    Speaking as a botanist (who obviously isn’t omniscient), why don’t you wait until those buds on the left have opened, and post a picture of the flowers. Then it’ll be pretty easy to ID. So long as you yank it before it sets seed, it won’t spread.

  25. You live in Los Angeles? At first I thought it was epazote. http://kaweahoaks.com/html/mexican_tea.html Which grows as a weed all around here, although I have planted it on purpose once or twice. You can also buy it as an herb in most markets catering to Central Americans…

    …But, the flower structure is wrong.

    I have grown tobacco a few times to, and the leaf shape apparent texture look right, and the flower buds look correct. So, that is my guess. Tobacco. http://coep.pharmacy.arizona.edu/curriculum/tobacco/tobacco_plant.jpg

  26. It is green herb. Mix it with red herb. Doing this will restore more health when consumed.

  27. Wow. Next trend on Boing Boing: Permaculture?

    It doesn’t look like something in the Solanaceae family, but I’m no expert. It’s no way eggplant.

  28. IN the distant future, in a world ruled by iron-fisted robots and their DRM, aging Boingboing editors will only post iterations of “Where did I leave my car keys? I’m sure somebody knows.”

    I don’t know what the leafy fiends are but I’d taste ’em to find out.

  29. I wouldn’t eat that to find out what it is. I can tell you a couple things it’s not.
    Not chard. Not lettuce of any kind I am familiar with. Not amaranth or pigweed.
    Could maybe be some kind of Solanaceae but sure doesn’t look like the eggplants I’ve grown. Tobacco would be about the closest. Doesn’t look like brassica either. The 4-way structure is probably the best clue but it’s not ringing a bell for me. The flowers will probably give it away- post a photo of those when they open.

  30. The plant on the left looks like basil. The one on the right looks like a mint of some sort. The key word here is “looks”: the right-hand seedling also resembles juvenile berries or brambles.

    Further testing should include scent. Do the leaves have a scent when bruised? Don’t assault your plants; just rub a leaf between two fingers and check to see what the fragrance (if any) is. Don’t taste them, though. One never knows …

    Please do post results of further experimentation and eventual flowering. This is interesting.

  31. No no, it’s a lovely example of the North American leafy gedunia! A classic plant best grown in your clime.

  32. common or garden sorrel. If that thing goes to seed, you’ll have it EVERYWHERE!!! Make sure you dig way down and get all of the tap root out.

  33. I’m with Susan Oliver and materkb in suspecting that the one on the left is basil. Pick a small piece and smell it.

    No idea on the second… Maybe a hot pepper of some sort?

  34. Well, I would listen to the botanists, personally. Wait for it to flower and post that.

    @#23: “Mmmmmm Takuan, pickled vegetables with some hot rice, must be time to start dinner.” ?

    You pun, sir, most terribly.

    Though seriously, traditional Japanese food FTW. I’m off to defrost the rice for today’s bento…

  35. I first thought spinach for some reason, though it’s a little fuzzy for that. I would also second tobacco, or some things from the nightshade family. Also while we are requesting more pictures/more data I would also suggest a size indicator in the shot to give a general impression of what scale this is at.

    And whoever said Tomacco, awesome.


  36. Looks like what my West Indian neighbour calls Callaloo, although after looking it up it seems this covers a wide range of leafy greens.
    Given that it seeds itself from her plot to mine and grows very easily, that’s where my money is.

  37. From the left hand photo I’d hazard a guess at evening primrose GIS
    From the image on the right, tobacco is more likely

  38. The first one is alface ( im using the portuguese name). The other one seems to be tobacco…. hehehe have fun and send me some leaves:-)

  39. Looks like tomacco to me. Send me some when it fruits…or I’ll come to your house and break your legs.

  40. The one on the right is definitely mentha arvensis, on the left looks like lactuca sativa var. longifolia.

  41. If the flowers are in bloom, they often help identify a plant more easily than the leaves.

  42. A little Roundup® should take care of that. On the other hand, if you really care, wait for the flowers to bloom and then run it through a good botanical key.

  43. You need to get a webcam on those right away so we don’t miss a potential opportunity to identify them.

  44. It looks like Borage to me.

    My grandfather used to plant borage near where he had his tomatoes. He claimed it made the tomatoes taste better. I don’t know if that is scientific or folklore, but his tomatoes were the best I’ve ever tasted.

    FWIW, everyone thought he was crazy to plant it because they all considered it a weed.

  45. Although this plant does like burdock, burdock is a biennial and spends its first year as a rosette of leaves close to the ground. Only in the second year would it send up a stalk and flower. So if this is indeed burdock, it would have had to have been there last year as well. Do you know if this is the case?

    Incidentally, burdock root is used for cooking in Japan. I believe it is referred to by the name gobo there.

  46. The best bet is to post a pict of the flowers to properly identify
    I’ve grown several species of Nicotiana (tobacco) including N. Rustica.

    I’m gravitating to some member of the Solanaceae family of plants

    But can’t ID the species. Right now I’d say that the leaves are “inedible” so hold off on doing anything more than taste for nicotine content.
    We’ll know more when they flower.

  47. When I was a kid a plant sprouted up in my parents vegetable garden that they couldn’t identify (they were avid, old school green-thumbs). It got bigger and bigger and really had them flabbergasted. Finally my dad removed a leaf and brought it into work to see if someone could ID it.

    “Bill! What are you doing with THAT?! It’s MARIJUANA!!”

    My dad came home and immediately chopped it down and buried it out in the woods.

    My teenage neighbors (who had remained silent for weeks) were heartbroken.

  48. There seems to be no consensus growing (ha!) – I am losing faith in the wisdom of crowds.

    I like the webcam option, at some point the identification will become obvious. I’m leaning towards “inedible weed” myself.

  49. It’s definitely not basil, lemon balm, or any ordinary kind of mint. The growth habit is all wrong for that and the leaves are too big.

    I really wouldn’t do the crushing and rolling between the fingers to release the fragrance either. There are some truly poisonous and very common wild & garden plants out there (foxglove, hemlock, oleander, etc) which could make you very sick by doing that.

  50. If I had to guess, it is the mysterious Try-hard Joak. When viewed digitally it emits radiation that forces the viewer to use only their reptilian hind-brain in formulating a joke about it. The results, as you can see, are not pretty.

  51. If it is borage, it is edible (though not incredibly tasty) and a WONDERFUL bee plant.

    Members of the mint family (Lamiacea??sp!) have square stems.

  52. BTW, nice comment stunt. This really got us going on about almost nothing. Still though don’t eat it.

  53. I like the webcam option, at some point the identification will become obvious.

    I was kidding.

  54. Borage (at least the stuff we have in our garden) has very distinctive blue-purple flowers. Looking at it in plain old daylight it looks like something under a blacklight.

  55. I think we’ve just had two of the great lessons in the botanist’s life, live on the web.

    Lesson 1: There’s a reason that they teach us to use the flowers to identify unknown plants. While you can identify the plants you know from the leaves, they aren’t all that reliable for unknowns.

    Lesson 2: Once you’re known as a botanist, one question people always ask is: what is it? (usually with a leaf or, as above, a portrait photo that doesn’t show diagnostic details).

    Some things that would help us:
    1) flowers.
    2) scale (they could be anything from a few inches to a foot tall).
    3) pull off a leaf or two (all the way from the main stem) and photograph them against a neutral, light colored background. The shape of the leaves will help us.
    4) Leaves come off stems at points called nodes. One critical question is whether the leaves come off one per node or two per node. Two per node is less common, but is characteristic of things like mints and basil. Which is it? If some plants are one leaf per node and some are two leaves per node, congratulations, you have two (or more) species.

  56. Members of the mint family have square stems.

    Mark, does the plant have a distinctive smell when you bruise a leaf?

    And are these pictures the same plant, just that one a close up?

  57. what if we carefully tie a leaf to a tongue depressor with dental floss and hold in a dixie cup of water…until it TELLS us who it is!

  58. @Takuan, #93

    Damn you, I just about choked on my throat lozenge.

    Give us some warning next time before you say something that funny.

  59. you know, I love all you Boing Boing readers, but 95% of you would die if left alone in the the bush for more than a week.

    if Mark actually ate this thinking it was chard, mint, borage (good guess) or basil, he’d be puking his guts out… that’s a TOBACCO family plant, which in addition to nicotine also contains other caustic alkaloids.

    nice flowers, though.

  60. That is a tobacco plant, nicotiana. Similar plants are sold at nurseries…yours is obviously a volunteer. Cool!

  61. Everyone knows the obvious solution:
    Make a decoction using the leaves of the plant on the right using kerosene. The prepare an enema bag by heating to 103 degrees Fahrenheit. After the decoction has been soaking for 11.9 hours, administer the enema by filling the bag and inserting the tube in your . . . well, you know where it goes. Then sit over an open flame and expel the liquid from your hairy ass. If it burns, you better sit down quickly; if not, it’s a miracle.

  62. Wow look at how big my babies are. If you pick up a leaf you should juuust be able to see the nuclear warheads starting to form.

  63. definitely not burdock, probably tobacco. save them if you want, but the romaine lettuce and the purslane nearby will taste better.

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