Weed profile: Fumitory (Fumaria spp)

Fumitory flowers, white with dark pink tips, close up

Close up of the flowers of our local fumitory, which is probably capreolata (but I’ve not keyed it out to check)

Fumitory is one of those weeds that I grew up with so constantly that when I found out it used to be considered a “challenging specimen plant” to grow for British flower shows I had trouble believing it. It’s not like I’ve ever seen fumitory struggle to take over anything.

A mound of weeds. Seen from a few metres back, the fumitory flowers do cover the mound like earth smoke.

This is one fumitory plant, climbing and trailing. Somewhere under there is a grevillea. Quite a large grevillea.

There are several species of fumitory, genus name Fumaria. I think my local one here is Fumaria capreolata, but I haven’t confirmed that. It’s certainly a common weed in Australia. As weeds go, I don’t mind it. It’s quite easy to weed out. You find a mound like in the photo above, you lift the trailing stems up to see where they originate, you pull the plant out with minimal effort, and suddenly you’ve made a big clear patch. It’s very easy to clear. But that presumes you have time and ability to clear it at crucial points. There are areas of the local river that are swamped with the stuff. If uncleared, whatever’s under it will struggle a little for winter light. It does die back on its own in secondspring, but that leaves then a big heap of drying vegetation susceptible to fire or to becoming snake habitat. I think it breaks down easily enough, but there’s a little time in there where it’s a bit inconvenient.

From a weedscaping point of view, Fumitory is one of the plants I have to keep an eye on and choose where it’s allowed to grow. It makes a wonderful ground cover, protecting soil rampantly. It will block less strong or slower-growing seedlings from coming up and getting tall enough soon enough though by its sheer vigour. So when it took over the garlic patch, that was fine. When it took over the alexanders-and-fenugreek patch, it had to be knocked back a bit. If it grew like that starting in secondspring I’d enjoy it a lot more, as I’d be able to use it as a natural shelter for some seedlings to get them started. But it takes off in autumn so it’s blocking winter light and then gives no shelter for summer. The big masses of plant compost down very nicely though and give me good green matter to mix with all my high-nitrogen stuff so it’s nice to be able to wander out, pick two plants and have a binfull. That doesn’t prevent the seeds spreading at all, but I’m ok with seedy compost. I also think I may be able to weed plants off in September, let them dry and then use the dried mass as a seedling shelter, but I haven’t tried that yet.

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2 Responses to Weed profile: Fumitory (Fumaria spp)

  1. David Cook says:

    Aha, that’s what that is – I took a photo of some about a week ago at Blackburn Lake Sanctuary, just ‘cos it looked interesting. There seemed to be quite a bit of it around, too … I’ll assume the Friends of BLS are aware of it and managing it as required 🙂

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