Weeds – those pesky things that pop up in our garden and threaten to take over our carefully planted seedlings, our valuable veg or our fabulous flowers. Weeds can be defined as a plant that grows in a place where it shouldn’t (according to us humans), and worse, grows amazingly well. Weeds also tend to have the ability to spread themselves freely by seeds or roots, making them ultra successful specimens of the plant world – which is rather unfortunate for us.
And so we tend to try to destroy them by any means possible: digging them out, pulling them up, spraying them with nasty chemicals or even burning them with a blow torch. Which is all very well and understandable if you are trying to grow some carrots (although I’m not at all keen on the use of herbicides), but what about in other places. I’m talking here about kerbsides and pieces of waste-land, places that still often see the use of plant-deadly spraying forays by local councils. I’m not advocating that postmen should be trying to find our front doors while wading through a jungle of rosebay willow-herb but even so, surely it wouldn’t hurt for our concrete pavements and by ways to be, well, a little less manicured, a little less barren of nature.
Because, when you really look at some of the weeds, especially when they flower, they are beautiful. Not just our wild varieties of course but also garden escapees that have colonised themselves into cracks and corners. Next time you are out in an urban environment, look closely. Plants that manage to grow in between paving slabs or at the edges of kerbs are often smaller and weedier than their deep soil living comrades, but they still have beauty.
And it is not just a case of looks, ‘weeds’ often are very ecologically important for several species – usually of insects but sometimes birds as well. The cinnabar moth depends on the ‘noxious’ weed ragwort – the plants that is so poisonous to horses and livestock. Birds such as the greenfinch totally adore the seeds of the creeping thistle. You see, to them, these plants aren’t weeds, they are part of their cycle of life.
Weeds definitely don’t belong in certain places, but we should still make a place for them in our world. Have a look around your own environment and see how many ‘weeds’ you can find. Then identify them and look them up. You may be surprised about how valuable they actually are.