It's official: my back yard looks like hell. The trees and shrubs are bare, the berries have been eaten, the perennials have died back. All that is left is pennywort. Acres and acres of pennywort.
Okay, I exaggerate. I don't have acres and acres. But if I did, they would be covered with pennywort.
For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, pennywort (aka dollarweed or Hydrocotyle in Latin) is an invasive, low-growing riparian or aquatic plant that spreads by seeds and runners. In other words, it's a weed that takes over wet areas.
My pennywort invasion is relatively recent. When we purchased the house in 2005, there was actual grass in the back yard. The previous owner had no garden, but he did have a lawn, and it wasn't half bad. How he managed this feat is beyond me. The area directly behind our property is an officially designated wetland, and with the squish-squish-squish you make walking in our back yard, you would not be off base to wonder why our property escaped this designation.
Of course, even under optimal conditions lawns require a ton of work, especially if you have no intention of hiring someone and no interest in using chemicals. So I decided to let it go and carve out a pseudo rain garden instead. I planted winterberry holly, clethra, hibiscus, and callicarpa; some cinnamon ferns and juncus; and loads of Louisiana iris, bee balm, and turtlehead. The pennywort showed up on its own.
Most of the time it doesn't bother me. After all, for nine months out of the year there are plenty of pretty things to distract the eye. But in winter, when all that's left is that spongy sea of weeds, I loathe it.
The funny thing about my pennywort is that it almost looks intentional. More than one person has asked about "that interesting groundcover," and I don't think they were being sarcastic. They may have mistaken it for dichondra, another weedy groundcover (or groundcovery weed, depending on your perspective). The difference is that you can actually remove dichondra should you ever decide to reclaim your lawn. In my perpetually wet back yard, the pennywort is here to stay.
Pennywort is not without its fans. It's native - hurray! Plant foragers and wild food aficionados tell us it's nutritious and delicious. Louis the Plant Geek highlights a variegated version that is actually quite pretty and looks great spilling out of a container. And the USDA, bless its heart, is worried about Hydrocotyle ranunculoides, which is endangered in Illinois, New York, and New Jersey. Clearly this is a plant whose time has come.
Maybe that's all I'm looking for - permission to call this invasive mess an eco-friendly groundcover. Would I change my tune if pennywort became the new "it" plant? Probably. I'm as gullible as they come where plants are concerned. Put it in a pot, give it a nice name, and stick a price tag on it. I'm there.
12/19/2012 08:51:01 am
Parts of my lawn are mostly creeping Charlie (at least, I think that is what it is). It covers the dirt and is not a thistle or dandelion, so it is okay by me. Do you even have to mow pennywort? That is a plus in my department.
12/19/2012 10:27:08 am
I like your attitude! We do mow the pennywort, although I wonder how tall it would get if I didn't. More important, thanks so much for visiting my blog! I look forward to perusing yours.
5/25/2020 06:49:56 pm
I think I'd be glad to have the pennywort. Its better than bare dirt which is what we've got in places around trees where the grass won't grow.
Honestly, it looks pretty good! What it really needs is a cultivar name, and then you can 'cultivate' it with pride. Hey, I saw an upscale nursery nearby selling Virginia creeper for $25 a pot, so I'm sure pennywort is probably sold somewhere as a groundcover..
12/19/2012 11:59:13 pm
I sure hope so! Then I could hold my head high...
12/19/2012 11:10:02 pm
If it's green and covers the dirt/mud, it's a lawn. Or as they say, pennywort is the new fescue.
12/20/2012 12:02:19 am
I'm putting you in charge of the marketing campaign.
12/20/2012 12:04:22 am
Not yet. I'm saving it for company.
12/20/2012 02:20:10 am
I'm starting to feel better about it already! Maybe I've been too hard on my squishy carpet of weeds.
12/21/2012 01:30:46 am
Thanks for visiting my site, Carolyn! It really does look pretty bad in real life, and it has an annoying way of popping up in the garden beds as well. But the comments I've received are helping me come to terms with it. So thank you!
I always love your wit and sense of humour. I don't have any pennywort, but I do have a few invasive groundcovers which threaten to take over both the lawn and my garden beds, so I can readily identify with your sentiments.
12/24/2012 05:07:03 am
Thank you so much! Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you too. I look forward to following your garden adventures in 2013.
6/21/2013 08:11:46 pm
if you have the kind of pennywort they mentioned here: http://www.eattheweeds.com/a-pennywort-for-your-thoughts-2/, then you could probably sell the leaves to locals who know about it but don't have access to it as readily as you do. :) Personally, I LOVE your carpet of pennywort. When I was searching for images and nutrition I specifically picked your page because of how pretty I thought the yard looked covered in it and I wanted to figure out how you accomplished it. We have a tiny bit, but I guess because we've been having so many dry spells, we don't have much. Personally from the picture, it almost looks better then grass.. I would love to know, since it looks like it would be: Is it comfy to walk on in bare feet?
6/22/2013 02:09:51 am
Hi Karin. Your comments made my day! I would not want to eat the pennywort in my back yard, given all the creatures that roam around there... Is it comfy in bare feet? I've never tried - while I love bare feet, I am not fond of being stung or bitten or stepping in something the rabbits or deer left. But it is does feel spongy and cushy in shoes, so I would imagine it's nice in bare feet too. If you want it to take over your yard, my advice is just leave it alone. It spreads like mad (but it helps if you have wet and really, really bad soil).
8/24/2022 01:54:24 pm
Oh my! This post made my day! I've identified this ground cover with my plant app. My story is a repeat of your story but in Williamsburg VA! I think the pennywort is very pretty and was so hoping I could call it ground cover. Done! I actually did find it online for sale LoL but it's free to anyone who wants it here. Struggling with TOO much pachysandra that all manner of things hide in ugh. Any advice appreciated. Thanks again so much for posting!
8/28/2022 07:42:36 am
I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Personally I'd prefer pachysandra to pennywort, but that's just me. Maybe rip it out and plant vinca instead? It's lower so less of a chance for things to hide. Good luck!
8/28/2022 08:32:52 pm
Yes the pachysandra is lovely. I always wanted some but trust me when I say way too much. Three busy Labradors make us a little wary of copperheads hiding in our area. Love vinca … wish I could give you some of the pachysandra. Right now we’re tired and just glad to know the pennywort can be considered ground cover!🤪
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The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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