Black Swallow-Wort Pods

By Pat Artis, Wollaston Garden Club

Throughout the years, members of the Wollaston Garden Club and other city gardeners have been in a private war to eliminate invasive plants from their gardens. These plants threaten bird and butterfly populations and other native plant communities, and cost city governments millions of dollars in plant loss and for removal. This summer, along with the usual suspects like Oriental Bittersweet, Japanese Knotweed, and Garlic Mustard, local gardeners are dealing with a bumper crop of Black Swallow-wort.  

Black Swallow-wort (Cynanchum nigrum), also called “the dog strangling vine” can be found in well-maintained gardens, climbing chain-link fences, or mounding over border vegetation in all parts of Quincy. It is really difficult to weed out completely because its white, fleshing tentacles break off easily, but leave an extensive root system untouched. 

The Object of the club shall be to promote and encourage the love of gardening and the study of horticulture, floral and landscape design: To aid in the protection and conservation of our environment and to continue civic beautification in the City of Quincy. - Wollaston Garden Club Mission

However, by extremely persistent weeding, and digging out the root rhizome, the gardener can eventually be successful. Gardeners should wear gloves when pulling pods or digging up weeds to avoid potential skin irritation. Black swallow-wort weeds should not be thrown into a compost pile or put into yard-waste bags or barrels, but placed in tied plastic bags and put in the trash for incineration; their stoloniferous roots will re-sprout and seeds will not be destroyed in the composting process. Citizens are reminded to compost all other yard waste in the regular yard waste collections. For more information about black swallow-wort go to

According to Quincy resident, Kathy Wagner, who gave out information about the invasive at the main branch of the Thomas Crane Library on August 24th; “Many local gardeners have no idea what they are dealing with when they first find it in their gardens; its shiny green leaves come in pairs and it even sports a small purple star-shaped flower in July. Over a few seasons they discover it has taken over the garden, quickly winding around fences and shrubs, strangling out other plant species and eventually displacing them permanently. At this time of year it has green pods, green-bean like in appearance; the pods are beginning to open now and the winds will soon release from each pod hundreds of seeds, beginning a whole new generation of plants.” 

Citizens should remove the green seed pods now, before they turn brown, preventing the next generation from sprouting. The City of Cambridge has organized neighborhood “Pod Patrols” to rid their community of this invasive weed, with the slogan “Spread the Word…Not the Weed,” Diane Hill, Youth Chair of the Wollaston Garden Club recently led some Lincoln-Hancock students on a “pod patrol” to collect pods from along a fence in their school yard. Some enterprising Horticulture students from Quincy High School, like Alan Tran, at have been working, for a fee, as gardener’s helpers, removing the pervasive “dog-strangler” weeds from private gardens. Tran says to really get rid of the invasive plant “you have to dig deep, remove the primary root, and keep weeding until it’s gone.”

Pat Artis is a past president of Wollaston Garden Club, trained in identification of MA Invasive Species, and a Gardening Consultant of the National Garden Clubs, Inc.  This article originally appeared in the Quincy Sun.