Saturday, June 5, 2010

Why Do We Call Them Weeds?

When "weed" is used as a verb, it means "get rid of the damned things." To most, weed means undesirable plant, pest, something interfering with my gardening objectives, etc., etc. As a naturalist, I think of weeds as plants that have taken root in a place where they are not native, usually carried some distance from their native place by human activity. Example, quite a few species of weeds that are native to England came over on the Mayflower in bales of hay. Many from Spain and Portugal undoubtedly were on board the ships of De Gama, Columbus, and Vespucci. Then the English explorers. Who brought rats to Hawaii, and goats to the Galapagos? Some weeds that arrived on our East Coast traveled on their own across the continent in a relatively short time, carried by wind, water, animal fur, and human conveyances such as covered wagons, saddlebags, etc. Weeds generally do not succeed in taking root in new territory unless the soil has been disturbed such as by building roads and railroads, or following a wild fire. That's why roadsides and track sides are the best places to find weeds for photography. Before the poison folks were turned loose, those places were also great for finding edible weeds. What I find fascinating about weeds, beside the obvious beauty of many of them and the pollinating bugs they attract, is their relationships to domesticated plants, their survival mechanisms, and sometimes the stories (when known) of how they got to a particular place.
Bachelor's Buttons, a flower most people find beautiful, are in the same genus as star thistle, one of the most hated weeds. Aggravating as those thistles can be, especially when we walk through a patch wearing shorts, I think the flowers with their surrounding crowns of thorns are quite beautiful. Anyway, check through this blog where you can safely view the flowers of many species of weeds as well as native wildflowers; click on any photo to see an enlargement; click again to get even closer. If you find some pleasure in this, then you may want to take a walk along a roadside or track bed and try out a new relationship with the weeds.

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