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In Defense of Weeds

Like so many things in the natural world, weeds have positive as well as negative attributes.

They are the unwanted, the uninvited. They are seen as uncivilized and common.
The farmer, the gardener, and all who toil in their yards and groom their lawns, see weeds as the enemy. They are parasites; they are a plague.

Not only do they steal precious moisture and nutrients from proper vegetation carefully planted by the farmer or gardener, they disrupt the symmetry and geometry of the project. They are bad for the aesthetics; they ruin the “look” of a meticulously designed garden, plot, lawn or field.
The fact is that weeds are useful; they are essential; they are our friends. For one thing, they heal the wounded earth. Weeds thrive in disrupted soil. Land that is plowed, spaded, hoed, eroded, kicked, burned, scratched, grazed, or trampled, is made inviting for thousands of varieties of growing things. Seeds, bulbs, roots and all manner of propagating materials eagerly await the slightest encouragement from sun and rain and begin to quickly grow over the exposed earth. This carpet of green prevents massive erosion of topsoil, provides a habitat for innumerable tiny living things, and offers forage and feed for both domesticated and wild animals. The early European settlers in North America successfully fed their sheep, horses, pigs, and cattle on any vegetation available—mostly weeds.

As the early Colonists travelers crossed the Atlantic, as they moved inland and began to farm the great interior, they unwittingly carried with them unwelcome fellow travelers from Europe. Sheltered in their clothing, blankets and hair, stuck in the mud on their boots, secreted in fur of their animals, scattered in their flour and meal, were seeds—seeds by the thousands—weed seeds. It is the nature of weeds to propagate and reproduce quickly. In a sense they quickly become “naturalized.” They settle in and make a home in their new land and begin to infuriate the gardener and farmer. It is estimated that roughly 60% of farmland weeds are imports from abroad (Kentucky “blue grass” is not native; it emigrated from the Middle East.). Some are more troublesome than others. Most are easily controlled by physical means of hoeing and cultivation, but others are virtually death-defying. These became the infamous “noxious weeds.”
An official list of noxious weeds for Minnesota alone numbers over 100 (including the charming but somewhat frightening name “mile a minute”). Until the recent use of chemicals that put many of these under control, profitable farming practices were put at risk in many areas of the Midwest. Wild oats, for instance, threatened to destroy corn farming in Minnesota during the 1940s.

Like so many things in the natural world, weeds have positive as well as negative attributes. Bees, despite there willingness to sting us, are absolutely essential for much of our food production; rain storms can flatten the wheat field as well as provide needed moisture. Weeds have their own vital role. Despite their tendency to aggravate us, let’s remember that weeds are indispensable partners on this great, green Earth.Author: EVM STAFF on 05/11 2009
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