More than once lately, I’ve been asked to define
‘weed’…..We USED to say it’s “any
plant we have no use for”……then we added
Over the years I’ve fine-tuned MY definition to
“any plant who DECIDES where it is going to come
up and sets up housekeeping and FLOURISHES”. There
ya go. Independent brats, these WEEEEEEEDS. But they have
a lot to teach us about persistence, adaptability, being
more we brutalize and just trash this blessed planet of
ours, the LOUDER the weeds try to teach us of these things.
The whole thing plays out as the MowMen do their jobs
and keep cutting all the roadside plants to the same HEIGHT.
All the interesting plants give up and leave and the real
earth-healing plants (bittersweet, Virginia creeper, poison
ivy, mugwort) catch their breath and come roaring back
with a VENGEANCE.
I had an altercation with one of the MowMen as much as
someone can, speaking from a car to a guy with weed-whacker.
He was LEVELING a wonderful stand of Wildflowers behind
a shopping mall, BEYOND the guard rail. It WAS the most
beautiful river of Queen Anne’s lace, little thistles,
Chicory, Bird’s foot trefoil, red clover, white
sweet clover, goldenrods and yes, St John’s wort.
I had my eye on two BIG stands of it.
I’ve been duking it out with these clowns for my
whole 30 year career as a professional gardener. I knew
enough not to shriek, “What the HELL are you DOING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
As calmly as I was able, I managed to JUST find enough
voice to ask WHY someone had asked him to DO that. The
answer was “We do it every year”. No, no way,
man. These things BLOOMED last year. He said well, yeah,
they STOPPED back THERE last time. I tried to explain
that this was one of the BEST stands of Wildflowers in
the county, and they’re not bothering ANYbody, and
BY THE WAY…..Do you know what you’re STANDING
in there? Saint John’s wort. The Whack-Monger shrugged.
I was in such a frustrated RAGE I was losing my voice.
So my parting volley was to ask him to TELL his supervisor
that ONE person was utterly HEARTBROKEN that they were
doing that. And I drove off. I accomplished NOTHING. He
finished his JOB. Weeks later I went back again. The bittersweet
looked like a Street Gang hanging out with the Poison
Ivy. The bird’s foot trefoil made a comeback and
Queen Anne REFUSED to be dethroned…..but St John
LEFT. Not one single leaf came back. Hypericum is LIKE
that. I’ve seen it happen and I’ve seen others
write of it. When the wildness of a place is dishonored,
Hypericum up and LEAVES.
Mugwort/Cronewort is one of my FAVES. She’s just
a protest march with roots. Marches RIGHT up the edge
of the pavement and DARES anyone to try to take her down.
And they DO take her down and she roars RIGHT up again.
Big surprise she’s called Cronewort. More and more
it feels like it’s up to us women with silver leaf
undersides to knit our roots together and HANG ON. Somewhere
Susun noted that the emergence of Mugwort/Cronewort, Artemesia
vulgaris, tells we haven’t trashed it all YET.
howl and holler about barberry taking over our forests,
bittersweet climbing and choking our trees (notice how
it can also turn a dead utility pole into a LIVING tree),
the uselessness that is a lawn being INVADED with a mineral-rich,
liver-tonic called dandelion. The fact is, WE are creating
an ENVIRONMENT where only the scrappy weeds CAN survive….We
poison everything including our own livers and the world
sprouts dandelions. We destroy trees at a totally alarming
rate and bittersweet turns ANY structure back into trees.
We compact the soil and Plantain gives us Mother Nature’s
bandaids. We won’t stop building McMansions on every
square foot of ground and that ground SCREAMS in Poison
Ivy. We spend gazillions of dollars on Arthritis meds
when the answer may be in Goldenrod oil. And, the cure
for Lyme disease could be in the roadside Teasels.
So NOW what do we do?
I’ve thought about getting folks to put red yarn
on plants they care about that are in harm’s way:
the Elderbushes, the Joe Pye Weeds. It may not STOP the
MowMen, but it might tangle up their weed whackers. I’ve
noticed that once I introduce a person to one of our Valued
Weeds, like, say, Mullein, they begin to see it EVERYwhere.
If the world MUST have neat roadsides, for goddess’
sake PLANT COLTSFOOT. Daylilies SEEMED like a grand idea,
but I saw them taken off at the knees in FULL bloom.
But beyond that, I think it’s important to know
that every time you acknowledge our roadside friends,
all their brothers and sisters FEEL that. So go say good
morning to the Goldenrod! Kiss a dandelion and wear the
yellow pollen on your nose. Nurture your Queen Anne’s
Lace like it was an expensive nursery perennial. Deadhead
the spent blooms and she’ll keep going through October
(in the eastern US), Show a little kid how to use a Plantain
leaf on a mosquito bite.
Introduce your Friends to your friends.