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Catching up with Creeping Charlie

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I remember mom, one summer on the farm in Iowa where I grew up, deciding to order a couple of egg sacks filled with Praying Mantis eggs. These would, she hoped, hatch out in her garden and help control all the little worms and bugs and whatever it was that annually chewed up her vegetables. Plus, she was developing a "greener" side, more in tune with nature, so to speak.

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It is that urge that has gotten us into trouble over the years.

Those Praying Mantis colonies hatched out hundreds of four-inch-long flying little buzz bombs. They'd come across the garden sounding like miniature helicopters, and it was impossible to hear them coming and not duck your head. I tried several times to hit one with a BB gun, but that would have been a miracle. I wanted to hunt the garden with a .410 gauge shotgun, but the shells were too expensive, and were to be saved for pheasant hunting, come fall.

The Praying Mantis is described as an "insatiable carnivore." Mom never really figured out whether they helped eat bad bugs or not, because it wasn't long, and they left for the corn fields that surrounded the farm, which, to an insatiable carnivore, must have seemed like heaven. I don't remember many lightning bugs that year, matter of fact.

Some of the beneficial things we've done over the years haven't turned out that well. I just spend an hour and a half vacuuming all the Asian beetles out of the windows, upstairs and down. They're one of our attempts to outwit nature by using nature. Mostly, for the worst. At least the Praying Mantis died out over the winter, and couldn't come back.

The Asian ladybug beetles are crawling out of the cracks around the windows, where they went last fall to survive the winter. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture spent the years from 1960 to about 1990 trying to get these bothersome little creatures established, because they were an enemy of the soybean aphid. We've got an insecticide now that helps control the aphid, so the USDA gave up. Meanwhile, no one is certain if the ladybug they wanted to establish changed somehow into the one we have now, or if some new strain moved in.

They get under the siding of older homes, which, because they're not insulated well, leak enough heat to enable the ladybug to survive the winter. They're not such a problem with newer homes. Because of better insulation, they freeze; and tighter construction, it's harder for them to sneak in.

Even if they cannot get in, they burrow around under the siding and can damage construction and weatherproofing materials. They're another idea that we wish we hadn't had.

Creeping Charlie definitely ranks as an idea we wish we hadn't brought over from Europe. Back during the drought years of the Depression, it was the only ground cover that helped hold soil in place, so it was encouraged by the soil conservation agencies back then.

In Europe, where it has been in existence for centuries, it served well in people's yards, back when lawn mowers hadn't been invented. Back then, it was called Creeping Jenny, a term believed to be connected with an illness called coughing chennie. As an herbal medicine, it had some benefits against the whooping cough. "Chennie" got changed to "Jenny," it is thought.

Where Creeping Charlie came from, no one seems to know.

I know where I'd like it to go.

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