Welcome to the wonderful world of weedy plants!
Weeds are superevolutionary products of human civilizations and activities - without humans there would be no weeds, just wild plants.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why We Must Learn to Love Weeds

On June 4, Wall Street Journal published an interesting, great and refreshing article on weeds by Richard Mabey, titled "Why We Must Learn to Love Weeds".  It highlights that what is a weed in one place can be a beloved plant in another, so the tag 'weed' depends on circumstances and not a specific species.  Houston in Texas, USA, has even tried to outlaw weeds, by making weeds illegal, in their law saying:
"the existence of weeds, brush, rubbish and all other objectionable, unsightly and unsanitary matter of whatever nature covering or partly covering the surface of any lots or parcels of real estate."

Think about that for a while.  You are outlawing plants that try to grow in or cover anything that humans have made.  That really sets up the fight, man vs. weed.  Since the only plants that can grow in many human-made environments are by definition weeds, this law declares war on a large branch on the Tree of Life. Is that what we want? Is that necessary?  And don't we have more important things to do than spraying pesticides in artificial environments were we live?

Richard Mabey continues:  
"All of these definitions view weeds entirely from a human perspective. They are plants that sabotage human plans. [...] But is it conceivable that they might also have a botanical, or at least an ecological, definition?"  

Maybe weeds follow us humans because we make places where these plants thrive?  Maybe we 'make' the weeds? I don't think there is a botanical definition that fits all weeds, but plants that lived in disturbed ecological habitats are certainly often weeds.  But even a definition as 'disturbed habitat' requires a human input, since soil disturbance due to a landslide, for example, would lead to a new succession in habitats with new pioneer plants, and not suddenly be seen as a weedy area.  I think the 'weed' definition is in the eye of the beholder, in us humans.

The article addresses further our view of weeds in our cultures, how they are symbolic of evil even in childrens' books like Harry Potter and science fiction.  How many of them have been or become useful plants for things like crops, medicine, or soil improvement. Weeds move around, and homogenizes an Earth we humans have changed and made less natural over the last centuries.

Richard Mabey really puts the weeds into a wider perspective in this article which is an excerpt from his new book (which I will have to get).  He ends his article:
"Weeds are, in this sense, paradoxical. Although they follow and are dependent on human activities, their cussedness and refusal to play by our rules makes them subversive—and the very essence of wildness."

So true! Every aspect of natural and human life you can find examples of in weeds, even politics. Read the article, it is excellent.

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