Creeping Bellflower: The Zombie Weed
by Rob Sproule
I recently read Max Brooks’ page-turning unread romp, “World War Z.” The book is a mediation of what a global zombie plague, and our subsequent reaction to it, would look like.
In the book, infected victims don’t become zombies right away. It take days; time enough for them to mingle with you and become accepted as just another human. That is, until they eat you.
Zombies spread inexorably because as long as one survives, its sole determination is to spread and begin the plague anew. Their absolute focus on creating more of themselves is what makes them so hard to eradicate and so easy to spread like wildfire.
As I was read, the zombie behavior smacked as oddly familiar. The other day, when a customer came in with a familiarly sealed ‘Safeway’ bag and told me that a volunteer flower plant in her garden which seemed to be spreading quite quickly, I realized why. She said that its pretty blue flowers have made it hard to pull, but this year they seem to be sprouting up everywhere. I didn’t have to open the bag to know that she had a zombie weed outbreak.
Pretty can be Evil, too
The creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) produces clear blue, trumpet shaped flowers along a tall, stately stem. Upon seeing its spontaneous blooms in your perennial bed for the first time your reaction will probably be, “I didn’t plant that but it’s pretty enough to leave alone.”
Bellflowers aren’t native to Canada and were introduced from Europe as an ornamental plant. If you search online, you will astonishingly find this plant for sale, and sites like ‘Dave’s Garden’ contain posts from people who rave about buying or finding this blue treasure. Most of the reviews, however, are warnings.
For the first couple years, it will be pretty and deceivingly well-behaved. But 8″ beneath the surface it’s building a rhizomal substructure that is shuffling under flower beds, lawn, and garden alike.
By the time you notice it’s a problem, zombies are sprouting over your yard. The heart shaped leaves appear en masse in perennial beds and lawns and quickly choke out any resident plants.
Creeping bellflower thrives in dry or wet soils, full sun or full shade. It can lay dormant for years and, if there are no insects to pollinate, it will pollinate itself to make seeds.
It spreads by both rhizome and seed, and any shred of rhizome is enough to create a new, single-minded army of weeds. Each can produce 3,000 seeds and each comes equipped with wings for drifting across fences to quickly plague entire blocks and neighbourhoods.
Creeping Bellflower has recently been listed as a noxious weed and bylaw officers are out in force this year, issuing thousands of citations to clean up infested yards. If cited, home-owners have 10 days to clean up or a contractor will do it to the tune of a few brown bills.
Most importantly, if you see a pretty blue flower appear unexpectedly, yank it out! There are several other Campanulas which boast the same clear blue flowers and won’t drive you to distraction.
You can slow the spread by pulling them before they bloom. This will stop the spread of seeds and will start to deprive the rhizome of the photosynthesized nutrients sustaining it.
Always check the ingredients on wildflower seed packages, as it’s been known to find its way into the mix. Never buy wildflower seed packs that don’t list all the species inside.
Don’t bother spraying ‘Kill-Ex’ on it. Creeping Bellflower is immune to 2,4-D (the active ingredient). ‘Round-Up’, containing glyphosphate, will slow it down but, in the process, will kill everything green it touches and, yes, the zombies will keep coming.
The rhizomes run so deep that you would have to excavate almost a foot of earth to reach them, and even so if there is even one shred left it will create a new batch of zombies. The best control is good old-fashioned pulling of every one you see. It will take time, but you’ll slow them down and, over years, severely weaken the rhizome.