Nature

That’s right – my favourite flower from Japan is an ‘alien weed’

I’ve always associated daisies with beauty, especially after staying in Copenhagen. The Marguerite Daisy (Argyranthemum Frutescens) is the national flower of Denmark, Georg Jenson’s signature design, and the symbol of the Marguerite Route, a scenic driving course that stretches 3,600 km along the country’s most beautiful attractions. Daisies barely crossed my mind since I left Copenhagen – that is, not until I moved to Japan.

I took a lot of walks during my first spring in Tokyo; I began noticing small details once I got accustomed to the architecture, people and general vibes of neighbourhoods. There was always a little flower that caught my attention – its white ray florets and yellow disk reminded me of the Marguerite Daisy.

For a year I had no name for it. It was just known as ‘not quite a daisy’. The daisy I knew had rounded ray florets – this flower had rectangular strip ones, as if an amateur origamist gave up half way and started cutting thin strips for florets.

From left to right: ‘not quite a daisy’ and ‘the daisy I knew’

I finally found out its name: Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus). They grow all across Japan in a wide range of habitats, including paddy fields, pastures, farms, riverbanks, and urban sidewalks. The Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) is native to the Canary Islands and was first introduced to Japan from North America in the 1920s as an ornamental plant. How the tide has turned! They are now officially classified as an ‘alien weed‘.

It is commonly referred to as 貧乏草 (びんぼうぐさ – binbougusa) in Japan, which means ‘broke (poor) man’s grass’. A friend shared some stories from her childhood that helped explain how it got such a name and how the Japanese perceive the plant. Daisy Fleabanes (Erigeron philadelphicus) were associated with poverty because they were often seen in run-down areas of a neighbourhood or near lavatories. Further, kids would eagerly throw them at schoolmates while chanting “びんぼうぐさ – binbougusa”, light-heartedly cursing their targets to a life of poverty.

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Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) flower heads in an untended grass field. The photo was taken early in the morning so some flower heads were still closed – Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) is a nyctinastic plant that closes according to diurnal light and temperature changes

I was surprised to hear that my beloved pretty little flower had such a bad reputation in Japan when its distant cousin, Marguerite Daisy (Argyranthemum Frutescens), was revered by all in Denmark. In spite of this, the Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) remains an endearing little flower to me. If anything, the stories have made them all the more delightful – as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it: “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered”.

Turns out the Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) is not the only “alien weed” that stole my heart last spring – a field of Longhead Poppies (Papaver dubium), or otherwise known as ナガミヒナゲシ in Japanese, is quite a sight to behold.

Long-headed Poppies (Palaver dubium) in untended grass fields and along sidewalks 

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