An Intriguing Mystery for the Plant Detectives

June 29, 2009

There have been a number of mysterious plant capers making the rounds and being investigated here at Veggie Gardening Tips lately.

First there was the mix up between the look alike collard and cauliflower seedlings, then the case of the faux eggplants. Now there’s a new report of an unknown plant cropping up uninvited in a Northern Wisconsin gardener’s backyard!

The Latest Plant to Hit the Veggie Gardening Tips Most Wanted List

I don’t have a clue on this one, so Tamara and I are hoping that someone out there can shed a little light on the identity and culture of this rugged and vigorous looking plant. First a little background:

“I was on your website and saw that you were familiar with volunteer garden plants. Any idea what this plant is? I have ten of them growing in the garden.”

“I thought they were tomato plants since they showed up in a row spaced out where last year tomatoes were. I thought specifically maybe Thessolonikki. But they don’t smell at all like tomato plants.  Thanks in advance.”

A Rather Shady Looking Mystery Plant Resists Detection

And here’s the suspects lineup; we’re looking for a positive ID on this one and any additional background information will be appreciated and used to determine the fate of this mysterious volunteer in Tamara’s garden. Click on the images to get a closer look at the culprit.


With a quick glance at the first photo of the leaf close up I was ready to close the case and label this as some type of squash plant. That was until I saw the next full length shot; no way that’s a squash plant. It’s growing upward more like a coneflower or Jerusalem Artichoke plant, but that’s not it either.

A Difficult Cold Case that this Organic Gardener Can’t Solve

Now what really threw me was the close up of the stem in the last photo. Those do look a bit like suckers growing off of a tomato plant, but it can’t be a tomato, or even a tomatillo plant! I have to throw my hands up on this one but I sure hope someone out there can shed some light on this mystery.

I’m also wishing for this unidentified plant to turn out to be an innocent non-invasive. If it produces an attractive flower or a tasty edible fruit or tuber, that’s all the better. And if it happens to be especially nutritious or medicinal, that would be the ultimate reward for vegetable gardeners everywhere.

On the other hand if it is poisonous, invasive, unruly, noxious, or otherwise undesirable, at least Tamara will know exactly what to do with it next. And of course if no one out there can identify this plant then Tamara gets to name it and Veggie Gardening Tips will share in the credit of an awesome new botanical discovery!

So please help us out by sharing your insight in the comments below and let’s put this mystery to rest. Thanks!

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  • Barbee

    Could it be okra? If it blooms a whitish flower that resembles a hibiscus…I’d say okra.

  • Andrew

    It looks like [i]Ambrosia trifida[/i] ‘giant ragweed’ to me.

  • Dar

    I agree with Andrew, it looks like giant ragweed, in Indiana we call it horseweed. Here it usually starts to bloom in mid to late July through the fall. The plants can get huge if left alone. As far as I know there are no uses for it.

  • Simon (UK)

    It is a weed! There are millions of them here in England that usually camp out next to railway sidings.

  • Janet Crit

    I vote for Okra – the stem is squared off and fuzzy, and the leaves have 5 points.

  • Pingback: Giant Ragweed; the Mystery Plant Identified » Veggie Gardening Tips()

  • nangy

    Looks like a mole plant, my mom has them in her garden to deter moles.

  • Debbi Minor

    I agree with nangy, looks like a caster bean family. my grandmother always grew it to deter moles. But sometimes it has more burgandy colors on the stock.

  • Churchill M

    I certainly know them by site! I’m constantly pulling them up all over the place. They come up in the brocolli, squash, tomatoes, roses, daisies! It is definitely not tomatilla, I grow them and there are much smaller and laden with “halloween lamps.” They are called “weeds.” 🙂

  • Robert B

    I find the giant ragweed plant a welcome friend along the edge of my back yard. By mid July I have complete privacy with 6 foot or taller plants and each fall I collect their seeds and scatter them along the lot
    line. I’ve also been successful in transplanting them. If they come up in my 750 square foot garden area they are either pulled out or transplanted.

  • Karen Z

    Robert – you are the enemy of all who suffer from ragweed allergies ! But I do not believe that to be giant ragweed as they do not bush out like that. I have only seen drawings of the mole plant, and they do resemble tomatoes ( the one I am referring to is not the castor bean plant – it is closer looking to okra). And this unidentified plant is not okra either, as it does not have that bushy appearance.

  • melinda

    I happened on this just now…after doing a google search for hours to find out what the bush is that I have that looks just like this. It grew tall in the shade of a large tree here in Tennessee. Sure would like to know what it is. So sorry, no answers yet for you.

  • Phill

    I know this plant very well. It is a disgusting plant. It is ambrosia trifidia, also know as giant ragweed or horseweed. They can grow, if unchecked, to be meters tall. They desire direct sunlight and will not grow in dense forest in shade too well. Best way to get rid of them is to mow them. They are an obnoxious weed. Kill them when you see them. Major cause of hayfever and allergies in late summer. Not too fun to brush up against as they have fine, stiff hairs on stalk.

  • Phill

    Sorry forgot to add this: the lobes on this bush are what I call disfigured leaves. Sometimes, ambrosia trifidia’s environment causes the lobes to “disfigure” such as that. Usually, they are more defined and clean-cut. But, nevertheless, that is ambrosia trifidia.

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