Metro-East Living

Grandpa wants to end five-year debate: Is it a flower or a weed?

Q: I have a plant in my front yard that my grandson says is a weed. It has been with us five years or more. It was never more than 18 inches high and had no buds. This year, it grew over 3 feet high and has lots of buds, which turned purple. If it is not a flower (tame or wild) and is a weed, as my grandson says, could you please identify it?

A. B. of Belleville

A: Your plant is considered a weed, and your grandson is correct. The plant is commonly called burdock (Arctium minus). This plant starts the first year as a flat plant with the leaves somewhat hugging the soil and then the second year grows upward and forms flowers. It got taller this year, as we experienced more rain. The flowers are small, red-violet disk flowers, surrounded by numerous hooks, which later form a burr. There is a taller species of burdock that is larger in all respects, great burdock (Arctium lappa).

Q: My neighbor and I just noticed yesterday morning that our bannisters and our plants are covered with some kind of clear, sticky substance. In some cases, it seems to be leaving black, greasy marks on my iris, and I think it is affecting my daylily leaves.

We live in an old neighborhood and have large sycamore and tulip trees on our properties. What is causing this to happen this year? We’ve been living next to each other for a long time, and we’ve not noticed this before. Is it harmful? It seems to be affecting more than just the surface of my daylily leaves. My maple tree seems to have tiny, pink bugs on it — not on a lot of leaves, but some of the ones I can see. There also seem to be tiny, black bugs, which may be the same but just a different stage of development. Any help would be appreciated.

S.B. of Belleville

A: You are describing a problem which is called “honeydew,” which is excrement from insects of aphids, mealybugs, psyllids, whiteflies and scales. These sucking insects cannot fully digest all the sugar in the plant sap and excrete the excess, which is termed “honeydew,” as it is sticky. Later, if the honeydew is not washed off, it will attract a fungus to feed on this sticky substance and form “sooty mold” on the honeydew. All the honeydew and sooty mold can be washed off with a wet rag, or it will eventually be washed off by several heavy rains.

The small bugs on the maple tree are nymphs (small boxelder bugs), which mainly feed on boxelder maple and silver maple trees, as well as their seeds. Adult boxelder bugs are bright red and black insects that hibernate around buildings in the winter and then they lay eggs on the leaves in the spring (late April to May). The small eggs are straw yellow until the embryo begins to develop and then slowly turn pink and finally bright red. In our area, there can be two generations a year. These insects are particularly troublesome in the Mississippi River Valley, where we are located. These insects usually are not that big of a problem, unless large numbers build up.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Department, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to

Things to do this week

  • After all the rain we had earlier this spring, the soil is very dry. Check to see if your plants need to be watered, as you may notice some of them beginning to wilt. This will limit flower production as well as fruit and produce production.
  • As the water begins to dry up, you may notice more animal damage.