alienweeds, the invasive species harvest

The weeds of Washington, D.C.

An arm of Rock Creek Park, Whitehaven Parkway supports a maturing hardwood forest. As early successional Tuliptrees fall, young saplings of White Oak, Sugar Maple and American Beech stand by to fill gaps in the canopy. But the light-drenched areas created by fallen trees are swarmed by invasive plants, which smother saplings and arrest forest succession.

These critical areas are a primary focus of our harvesting, where we extract exotic vines to liberate hardwood saplings.

Invasive plants are also removed, with permission, from nearby community gardens, city properties and private lands.

A working (incomplete) list of local exotic weeds and the materials they provide:

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Leaves Stems Roots Flowers
fruits, seeds

Irish Ivy
Hedera hibernica

Pack in a glass jar, add ethanol, allow tincture to soak for weeks or years, evaporate for bright green, sticky printing ink. Steamed, stripped, shredded, cooked and heavily beaten, vine xylem yields a soft, brittle, tan paper that responds well to letterpress printing; wood is dense, small in diameter, used for small printing blocks. Dried, shredded and burned for carbon black. Skins of ripe seeds yield a purple pigment in ethanol.
  Garlic Mustard
Alliaria petiolata
Can be cooked and eaten in early spring; otherwise, sent to the landfill to avoid allelopathic impacts. Stripped of leaves, stems are cooked and moderately beaten to yield a moderately strong, greenish, rattly paper, which is slightly resistant to ink. Root crown bears a purple nugget of anthocyanins that may be ground into a pH-sensitive purple wash.  

Asiatic Bittersweet
Celastrus orbiculatus

  Stringy inner bark is steamed, stripped from vines, scraped of outer bark, cooked in alkali for a tough, pinkish fiber that may be spun into cordage or beaten to form strong, soft, pink sheets of paper. Bright orange outer bark is peeled and soaked in ethanol to extract a reddish ink of carotenoids. Ground fruit coats yield a bright orange pigment.

White Mulberry
Morus alba

Soaked in ethanol to extract chlorophyll pigments, or feed to silkworms (originally why the plant was brought to the U.S.) Inner bark, stripped, scraped and cooked, yields a strong, bright-white paper. Wood (moderately hard, straight-grained and deep yellow, turns brown in sunlight) is used for fuel, carbon black, framing and printing blocks.   Edible fruits crushed in ethanol to extract a purple pigment.
  Tree of Heaven
Ailanthus altissima
Petioles cooked and beaten to form strong, soft, tan sheets of paper. High moisture content in wood makes it difficult to mill, dry and keep from warping, but after planing the wood is light, blonde, wide-grained.    
  Paper Mulberry
Broussonetia papyrifera
Composted White inner bark is the source for legendary Japanese hand-made paper (washi), which is strong, light-cream colored and absorbent. Stems are dried and burned for fuel or carbon black.    

Multiflora Rose
Rosa multiflora

Composted In March,bark of tender young canes yields pink fibers for paint brushes or paper. Older canes offer coarse, brown fibers (and chocolate-brown paper.) For reddish ink: Steam stems for 30 min., reduce boil water for gummy, sticky printing ink. Cooked in alkali to extract a strong, rusty-brown ink. Or, boiled in water, which is reduced down to a pinkish rusty pigment.  

Norway Maple
Acer platanoides

  Wood used for bas-relief carving, end-grain woodblock printing and picture-frame moulding. Scraps burned for carbon black.    

Mahonia bealei
Soaked in ethanol to extract bright green chlorophyll-based pigment Inner bark is soaked in ethanol to extract a fluorescent yellow gum of the powerful medicine berberine, which is soluble in both water and ethanol.   Purple fruits are edible.

Rubus phoenicolasius

Composted   Cooked in alkali to extract a strong, brownish-red ink. Bright red fruits are edible.
  Japanese Honeysuckle
Lonicera japonica
Cooked in alkali, neutralized to form a greenish-black ink Stringly inner bark forms a fibrous golden-yellow paper.    

Devil's tail

Persicaria perfoliata

  Whole vines (without leaves) yield a silky pink paper when heavily beaten.    
  Rose of Sharon
Hibiscus syriacus
Bruised and soaked in water for formation aid Thick white bast fibers yield a bright, creamy paper. Wood is fine, dense and brilliant white.    

Ampelopsis brevipedunculata

  In alkali, the white bast becomes black, which washes out to reveal stiff, brown fibers used for making brushes.    

Text and images © 2018, Patterson Clark; Web design by alienweeds