or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 9/6/09

   September 12th, 2009

velvetleafHere's another question with a patron bringing in an object and asking us to identify it - but this time was surprisingly easy.

A patron walks up the the desk with some big plant parts and asks, "do you know what this is? It's a great big bush in my cucumber patch."

I'm not great at plant identification. While I was considering the best approach, the patron pulled out two more pods like those on the plant, except that they were dried and the seeds inside rattled when he shook them. He kept saying that he's never seen seed pods like that on a weed before.

Since I didn't have any great ideas, I just did a search for "weed seed pod bush." Much to my surprise, and to the patron's astonishment, a picture of his seed pods showed up on the second page.

Clicking into the page told us this plant was called "velvet leaf" so we did another search for velvetleaf to verify the information.

Between the websites we looked at and a few plant books we had on the shelf, the patron was torn between considering this an "invasive weed" or an "ornamental flower" (which reminded me of something a friend's dad once said: a weed is any plant that's growing where you don't want it to grow).

In the end, the patron decided to pull them all out, and happily left us what he brought in as "a bouquet for the staff." I was happy too, because this is one of those questions that could have taken all day to answer - it's nice to get lucky once in awhile.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to “Reference Question of the Week – 9/6/09”

  1. LMel Says:

    Ah, Velvet leaf mallow–aka toilet paper tree (for when you run out). Grows like a weed in my garden, but it’s too interesting to look at and touch to bother removing. Plus the neighbor kids think it’s really cool. I always let one or two reseed at the garden border.