Lamb’s Quarters? Pigweed? Scientific Names, Please!

Lamb’s Quarters in hand, Pigweed on right.  Or is it the other way around?  It may be, depending on where you live.

I took Shepherd and Gameboy to the Johnson Public Library and signed them up for library cards.  Serendipity helped me find “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” by Euell Gibbons, in the used book pile.  I quickly gave the librarian a dollar for this wild food foraging classic from the 1960’s.

I turned to the chapter on Pigweed, because Citygirlfriend has been sautéing Pigweed, lately.  But I was confused because the picture looked like the plant I call Lamb’s Quarters.  As I read further, I realized I need to start using scientific names.  Euell explains why, with reasoning that resonates.

“Years ago, I was very impatient with anyone using a long Latin name to designate a common, ordinary plant.  I considered the use of these tongue-twisting titles to be an affectation, designed to show off the knowledge of the user.  Why couldn’t these high-brows use the common name, which everyone understood?

I think it was the Pigweed, more than anything else, that cured me of this attitude.  Pigweeds are among the commonest of the unwanted plants in fields, gardens and barnyards in Pennsylvania.  Therefore, I was not surprised to find that pigweeds were also common in Indiana, when I traveled there.  I learned that farmers in Tennessee, Texas, New Mexico, California and even Hawaii were troubled with pigweeds.  Obviously these farmers should get together and learn some way of controlling this troublesome weed.  The only difficulty with this procedure was that, in each of these localities, the “pigweed” was a different kind of plant.  To complicate matters even more, ‘Chenopodium album’, the pigweed of Pennsylvania, also grew in all these other places.  In some sections it was called Lamb’s Quarters, in some Goosefoot and in still other it was referred to as Wild Spinach.

I began to see why the botanical classification was necessary.  Many totally different plants are called pigweed in some parts of the world.  The plant I call pigweed is known by dozens of other common or folk names in different places.  Therefore any attempt to use the common name in distant places would only lead to confusion.  But I can say ‘Chenopodium album’ and a trained botanist from any part of the world would instantly know the precise plant meant.  Far from confounding the confusion, these Latin names greatly simplify the task of communication in this area.

More than that, the botanical name can tell me more about the plant in question than even the most descriptive common name ever could.  If I had never seen this particular plant, the name ‘Chenopodium’ should tell me that this weed is a member of the same family to which garden beets and spinach belong.  If I don’t have this knowledge at my fingertips, I can easily look it up in any botanical manual.  About this time I’ll begin to suspect this plant might be good to eat.”

Well said, Euell!  So I’m using scientific names now.  The plant in my hand  is Chenopodium album, and the plant on the right is Amaranthus retroflexus.  Both are wild edibles enjoyed at our table.

3 Responses to Lamb’s Quarters? Pigweed? Scientific Names, Please!

  1. ddahlsrud says:

    Reblogged this on TraditionalCatholicHomestead and commented:
    The mystery and confusion, solved…

  2. Thanks Mathew, I was wondering what lambs quarter and pigweed looked like. Still not sure which is which but I can at least say this is either lambs quarter or pigweed lol. I know I just pulled a lot of both out of my garden this past weekend.

    • I call the plant on the left, Chenopodium album, lambsquarter. The plant on the right, Amaranthus retroflexus, I call Pigweed. Yes, both weeds are doing well on my farm as well.

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