COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - There's a suspicious plant growing between the cracks of the pavement on Main Street in Columbia, but a Department of Natural Resources assistant botanist says it's not weed. No, there's not a word missing there. We mean, "weed." The kind of weed that some states have legalized.
Herrick Brown said he noticed the "suspicious looking plant" growing from a crack in the pavement near Main and College Street Tuesday. To the untrained eye, it may look like a seed from refuse of someone's cleaned-out bong took root.
But to Brown, the plant is much more interesting.
"As a Botanist, we notice subtle differences in the plants we pass by in contrast to the 'green blindness' suffered by those with untrained eyes," Brown told WIS. "Anyway, the plant was odd enough to cause me to stop and smell the leaves. Literally, one of the tools a botanists uses is his/her nose as the odors produced by certain species can be a dead giveaway as to their identity (think about mint, rosemary or garlic for some examples). While the plant was rather smelly, I knew it was not hemp or marijuana because its leaves were arranged in pairs along the stem."
Struck by the oddity, Brown sent photo of the plant to University of South Carolina Botany Professor John Nelson at the A.C. Moore Herbarium for his opinion. He said Nelson was able to access specimens of the species of the plant kept at the herbarium.
"John suggested the genus Vitex which is in the mint family (Lamiaceae)," Brown said. "This seemed reasonable since many species in the mint family are both odiferous and have opposite leaf arrangement. The question then was which species of Vitex. Since Vitex isn't native to North America, I had to consult an online version of the Flora of Pakistan where our two prime suspects co-occur. The difference between Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste-tree) and Vitex negundo (Chinese Chaste-tree ) is a very fine line and there's potentially some overlap."
According to Wikipedia, Vitex, or Chaste Tree berries are "used as a tonic for male and female reproductive systems," particularly premenstrual syndrome in women. Herbal supplements are manufactured under the name Vitex.
So upon identifying the plant and knowing it's not native to North America, Brown asks, "Where did the seed come from?"