It is a dirt-y word.

Gardeners, landscapers and lawn care professionals, hold your ears (or close your eyes, in the case of this article), I am going to say it. Crabgrass.

Crabgrass is the archnemesis of those that seek a perfect lawn or weed-free garden. Instead of “Get off the grass,” they just want it to get out of the grass.

It has earned a not-so-nice reputation. Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, insulted sisters everywhere when he said that “big sisters are the crabgrass in the lawn of life.” Others felt the same way. Comedy writer and magician Robert Orban complained that “inflation is the crabgrass in your savings.”

This worrisome weed in the genus Digitalis easily infiltrates yards and gardens. Two varieties, hairy and smooth crabgrass, are your likely suspects. Hailing from Africa, crabgrass was introduced in 1849 as animal forage and has since spread rapidly throughout the country. It is now found in all 48 contiguous states.

Management of this invader is difficult. Though an annual, crabgrass produces up to 150,000 seeds per plant per season. With this fecundity, it is almost guaranteed that you will be pulling out this year’s crabgrass offspring next year.

Crabgrass has even crept into our political conversations. P.J. O’Rourke, commentator and writer, described this weedy problem: “The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”

Getting rid of crabgrass is not as easy as changing the political party in power. Comedian Dave Barry observed that “crabgrass can grow on bowling balls in airless rooms, and there is no known way to kill it that does not involve nuclear weapons.”

Humor aside, it can, of course, be killed with herbicides.

Across the pond, however, a sister variety of Digitalis is welcome. In West Africa, fonio is a type of millet that locals don’t want to live without. The seeds of fonio are edible. They can be toasted and ground into flour to make porridge or fermented to make beer. In Mali, the Dogon people revere this grass. In their mythology, fonio, called po, was the genesis of the entire universe. The Supreme Creator, Amma, made the universe by exploding a single grain of fonio located inside the ‘egg of the world.’

Since we can’t eat it, we simply have no choice other than to take the advice of American writer Marya Mannes. She counseled us to “Lie down and listen to the crabgrass grow, the faucet leak, and learn to leave them so.”


Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.