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weeds, contrary to what the romantics assumed, are not wild

Grabov Rat : northern terrace, after weeding

Grabov Rat : northern terrace, after weeding

Photo of Sep. 16, 2007

So what is a weed? I consulted several field guides and botany books hoping to find a workable definition. Instead of one, however, I found dozens, through almost all of them could be divided into two main camps. "A weed is any plant in the wrong place" fairly summarizes the fist camp, and the second maintains, essentially, that "a weed is an especially aggressive plant that competes successfully against cultiva-ted plants". In the first, Emersonian definition, the weed is a human construct; in the second, weeds posses certain inherent traits we did not impose. The metaphysical problem of weeds, I was beginning to think, is not unlike the meta-physical problem of evil: Is it an abiding property of the universe, or an invention of humanity?

[...] weeds are not superplants: they don't grow everywhere, which explains why, for all their vigor, they haven't covered the globe entirely. Weeds, as the field guides indicate, are plants particularly well adapted to man-made places. They don't grow in forests or prairies - in "the wild". [...] They are as much a product of cultivation as the hybrid tea rose, or Thoreau's bean plants. They do better than garden plants for the simple reason that they are better adapted to the life in a garden. For where garden plants have been bred for a variety of traits (tastiness, nutritiousness, size, aesthetic appeal), weeds have evolved with just one end in view: the ability to thrive in ground that man has disturbed. At this they are very accomplished indeed.

Weeds stand at the forefront of evolution; no doubt they are evolving in my garden at this very moment, their billions of offspring self-selecting for new tactics to outwit my effort and capitalize on any opening in my garden.

Michael Pollan: Second nature, A gardener's education, Grove Press, New York, 1991.

Should I try to reach some evolutionary consensus with the weeds in my garden? A consensus reasonable from the (not all perfectionist) gardenerís point of view? Should I convince myself that I selected just them to be a ground cover among my cultivated Mediterranean shrubs and trees? Then, if so, should I leave the ground cover completely to their evolution or should I intervene somewhat - Iím too an evolutionary product.

No, Iíll fight. Yes, Iíll fight that particular evil of our universe because itís an invention of humanity.

 2007-09-23 

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