Understanding Crabgrass had never seemed important to me. It’s a term I'd heard thousands of times before but I didn't even know what looked like. All I knew it was something that vexes overly fastidious lawn owners. Little did I know how much it has personally impacted my life and how the plant is woven into the very fabric of the American Experience.'
Keeping Camp Salmen Nature Park tidy, oddly enough, involves trying not to let nature take over everywhere. Sometimes, instead of nature gracing an area with natural beauty, it just makes things look ratty. Our parking lot is one of those places.
It is shocking to learn those knotty grass clumps that are always trying to colonize the crushed white limestone and become candidates for a shot of herbicide are, indeed, the dreaded Digiteria sanguinali, also known as hairy crabgrass, hairy finger-grass, large crabgrass and crab finger grass. It is also distributed here and there on Camp Salmen’s lawns but is fairly well camouflaged and under control by the competition from all the other healthy, green grasses.
Crabgrass thrives in areas like barren, rocky parking lots, and can take advantage of a lawn’s weak, balding spots. It tends to spread by prolific seed production and is, therefore, difficult to control. The Latin name digiteria refers to its finger-like, horizontal grass blades and stalks that splay out from a central clump. The whole thing sitting by itself does sort of look like a crazy, abstract, green crab on hallucinogens.
Its appearance on this nation’s lawns, close-cropped to near death in the American fashion and starved by mower/vacuums, has launched a multi-billion dollar industry that hawks an array of chemical remedies to the aforementioned fastidious lawn owners. Even weirder is that this plant is a native to Germany and Poland and is traditionally grown there as a crop. The prodigious quantities of seeds it produces, referred to as Polish millet, are painstakingly harvested by hand and eaten. That Europeans have, at times, been driven to eating weeds is not surprising.
The grain is very nutritious to humans and the grass is rich in protein for animals. Immigrants from this part of the world apparently brought it along to America to have a favorite foodstuff from the old country and as forage for their livestock. They probably thought they were doing us all a favor by bringing something to the American Party, but the plan backfired and they ended up causing untold human misery and launched a vast chemical warfare industry.