In defense of weeds.
September 28, 2010 § 4 Comments
We call people we don’t like lowlifes, deadbeats, trash; places we don’t like slums. And we call plants we don’t like weeds. There is no biology to back up the term, just a judgment call.
It’s true, there are weeds (their names are usually preceded by “invasive and exotic”) that break all the rules of decency, such as kudzu or Brazilian Pepper, plants that smother or crowd out their neighbors—any group has its bad players. But the majority of what we call “weeds” are native or naturalized, and managable, if a little exhuberant.
Weeds need a PR person. That would be me. So tell me, what is it you don’t like about weeds?
They grow absolutely anywhere! What can I say? Weeds are optimists. To a gardener it’s just a crack in the concrete or a damp ditch. To a weed it is an opportunity. Weeds green the earth we’ve scraped bare, they cover man-made ugliness with flowers.
How do I keep them from growing? Why do you want to? Many of the plants we coddle, and feed and water and read-up-on die just the same. Nobody spends hours trying to figure out “the culture” of chickweed or fleabane. Weeds plant themselves and make do, no matter how poor the soil, or sporadic the rain.
How can one small plant make that many seeds? Weeds produce abundant flowers and seeds and berries. This profligacy makes gardeners mad–by definition a weed is a plant that “grows where it is not wanted, as in a garden.” Bees and butterflies, possums and squirrels are not as fussy. Weeds get them through the winter.
I pull them up but they keep coming back! Yes, as spokesperson for weeds I offer a written guarantee. A weed is 100% reliable. Pull it up and it will come back (usually in greater abundance). I can’t say the same for many of the plants we deliberately cultivate. As natural as Frankenstein, these hybrid or genetically modified plants rarely produce viable seeds. If they do their volunteer offspring are usually spindly and plain. A weed makes more of itself, reliably, continuously.
You never see just one–they’re all over the place! Isn’t it great? How else would you get a field of daisies?
As the spokesperson for the plants known as weeds I say, like the people we encounter, we should get to know them before we judge.
Take dandelions. Although my father worked for a company that manufactured herbicides, dandelions dotted our lawn. My mother made a sweet, heady wine out of the yellow flowers. Each distilled summer tasted a little different, some sweeter than others, but all were good.