Help a reader: What is this awful plant?

unidentified weed in South Buffalo garden from Kathy Thomas
Photo courtesy Kathy Thomas

by Connie Oswald Stofko

A reader sent me this question:

“I have what I assume is a weed every year in one garden bed. I cannot get rid of it no matter what I try. It is green leafed and grows on a stem that snakes under ground. The stem is reddish purple under ground and the leaves come up from that as it spreads all over. It can get very tall. It’s coming up already. It twists through my roses and day lilies and is ugly. I don’t know what it is. Help?”

Kathy Thomas of South Buffalo

When she sent me photos, she added:

“This is the invasive thing that is growing better than anything I ever planted! It is already a few inches high and all over. I hope someone can help me. This has been a problem since we moved here 20 years ago.”

Can you help this reader? What is this plant? Do you have any tips on how Kathy can get rid of it? Please leave a comment below.

roots and stem on weed in South Buffalo
Photo courtesy Kathy Thomas

I can offer this much help. This is definitely a weed. A weed is any plant that is growing where you don’t want it to grow.

But I’m not a gardening expert. I’m a writer by profession who interviews knowledgeable people in order to provide you with great articles on

So when someone asks a question I can’t answer, I post the question and rely on my readers to share their expertise. If you have advice for Kathy, please leave a comment below. If you want to know the answer to these questions, check back later to read the comments.

closeup of leaves on unidentified weed in South Buffalo NY
Photo courtesy Kathy Thomas

Sending a question to me to post can be helpful if you’re looking for a wide range of opinions and don’t mind waiting for the answer. If you want to try this route, email the question to me at and I’ll pose it to my readers in an upcoming issue.

A more efficient route for getting your questions answered is to turn to Master Gardeners with Cornell Cooperative Extension or to turn to your local garden center.

Find contact information here for your county’s Cooperative Extension office.

The businesses that support this magazine have very knowledgeable staff. Check out our Gardening Directory and Garden Resources or click on an ad to get their contact information.

16 Comments on “Help a reader: What is this awful plant?

  1. Good morning!
    I did some research on the image this morning – the plant in question looked so familiar! I saw my earlier reply, also…
    It looks to be Ground elder, Aegopodium podagraria.
    Although it MAY be edible, I certainly would not recommend this without being CERTAIN what it is, as your choice could be deadly.
    Persistent lawn mowing and pulling the roots by hand may give some sort of control, although the best Rx looks to be an application of a systemic herbicide. Contact herbicides a likely not effective, as the plant resprouts readily from the underground portion.
    Solarization may also be of assistance – here I would use clear plastic, not black plastic.

  2. The consensus seems to be gout weed or bishops weed. Definitely not pachysandra. It is impossible to weed it out around plants. Your perennials have to be dug up and all roots from the gout weed removed. Pot up the perennials you’re saving or plant them elsewhere, cover the area with layers of newspaper, cardboard or plastic, cover that with mulch and leave for at least a whole year or more. I have had luck cutting through the newspaper and re-planting in the same bed.

  3. Wow. I have tried covering the entire area with thick black plastic and mulch. It still comes up. It’s hard to dig up, because I have a huge rose bush and day lilies in this bed and this weed twines all around them. I guess I get a pair of gloves and shovel and start pulling it out where I can. Can’t imagine why anyone would plant this anywhere. Thanks for all the comments!!!! I was beginning to think I was going crazy! Nothing stops it!

  4. I agree with Jeff [above] on it being goutweed. This plant is something you need to keep after. I recently was at a gardening symposium in Jamestown, NY and the native plant specialist there recommended the following: “Mow the plant short, spray with a glyphosate herbicide, and then cover the area with a black tarp for 3 years to photosynthetically starve it out.”

  5. it’s called ‘Bishop’s Gout’ or Goutweed

    it can either be all green or green/white. It grows by spreading spaghetti-like rhizomes underground, just like common mint. Once established, extremely hard to get rid of. I had it in my backyard beds when I first moved here, and had to dig down over a foot deep, sift the dirt of all rhizomes, and put in a foot-deep edge between here and the yard behind me, from where it had spread. you may have to dig up your affected beds and pull the rhizomes out from the root balls of good plants you wish to save, or start from scratch like I did.

  6. Cinquefoil has compounds leaves, each with five leaflets. The photo is not quit clear enough and it would be great to see a flower.

  7. This looks to,me like a Pachysandra species. It is a virulent ground cover. You would pay a fortune for it at Lows or Home Depot?lol

  8. Looks like Bishop’s weed / Gout weed. It’s actually sold as a groundcover and is very hard to get rid of. I have had success smothering it with layers of newspaper covered with mulch.

  9. This is definitely not Pachysandra. It is very invasive and grows by spreading runners which root anywhere it touches soil. I have been pulling it out for years also. I even took apart one flower bed and dug each plant out by its roots to get rid of them. Within a few weeks, it was back. It does not flower and has the ability to grow in any kind of soil, wet or dry conditions, and appears frost resistant .i think it is called cinquefoil.

  10. This looks like it could be Pachysandra, which is used as a groundcover. It’s very invasive. I’m sorry but the only way to get rid of it is to pull it out.

  11. All I know is I have had this same problem in my garden and this weed is very invasive. I have tried all types of weed killers on this from Preen to extra strength weed b gone and nothing seems to kill it except maybe temporarily. It is so fast growing whatever turns brown on top of the soil is still growing underneath. If anyone identifies and knows how to get rid of this I would also like to know please.

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