Plants spread themselves around in a variety of ways. Stolons or runners are horizontal connections between plants. Production of stolons allows plants to move into an area, multiply rapidly and take over. In some plants, stolons trail along the surface of the ground and in others they are beneath the surface of the soil.
Aboveground stolons root wherever the stolon touches the soil & produce a plant above this point. This is visible in the trailing raspberry and in the wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) we have in the garden. Note the red stolons in the wild strawberries below.
Plants with belowground stolons spread rapidly and produce new stems around the original plant. We have several species of this type in the garden, for example stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata) and rosy pussytoes (Antennaria rosea). Although only 3 nettle plants were planted last year, there are now many stems in our nettle patch. Our sweetgrass patch has also increased significantly. The rudbeckia on the left of the photo is being surrounded by sweetgrass. Pussytoes is a much smaller plant than either nettles or sweetgrass – only a few cm high. Each of the rosettes of leaves on the right edge of the colony have sprung up from short stolons underground.
Sometimes it’s great that our plants spread but often stoloniferous plants need to be kept under control so they don’t over run other plants. Control could involve harvesting e.g. nettles early in the season or pulling up strawberries where they aren’t wanted. In future years this will be an important part of the maintenance of this garden.