Tag Archives: Weeds

Why weeds matter

By definition, a weed is any plant that crowds out cultivated plants.  In nature, plants will only crowd out other plants when the environment is altered and one plant is deprived of some nutrient or gained by another.  While we tend to think of forests as stationary ecosystems, they’re always moving.  As we see in succession, when one layer of pioneer plants has amassed enough biomass to sustain a perennial herb layer, the grasses move in and “crowd out” the pioneers.  As more biomass is generated at the top-soil layer by the bundled root-systems of the perennial grasses, the shrub layer encroaches followed by the shorter, then taller trees.  With each step, we see a more complex ecosystem unfolding until the web of biodiversity is strong enough to sustain minor alterations.  

“Weeds” or those plants we have labeled weeds, contribute to biomass, cultivation, offer a food source for beneficial insects and play a part in the development of the ecosystem.  And in many cases, those plants we’ve labeled “weeds” are far more beneficial than the plants we’ve cultivated.  Dandelions, for example, are completely edible, hold nutrients from the soil and redistribute these nutrients at the end of the life-cycle, are insectary, and offer humans some medicinal value.  Grass, on the other hand, prevents erosion and provides biomass, but otherwise, isn’t very useful to humans, doesn’t attract beneficial insects and takes in more nutrients than it contributes.

The universe in a weed

If ever you’ve gazed upon a fully ripe dandelion; ready for the next big gust of wind or the aid of a small child eager to watch seeds carried into the sea of air around them; then you may have noticed the tail of each seed resembles a star and that when clustered together (much like this major run-on sentence), it resembles a tiny universe.  

The biggest lesson I’ve received from observing the natural world, is that everything mimics a larger system.  The smallest atoms with electrons revolving around an nucleus mimic the planets in orbit around the sun.  The laws of succession which produce nutrient-rich top-soil are mirrored by the same process over time in our universe with dead stars giving birth to matter which later forms new stars and new planets.  There’s always some reflection of ourselves or our garden or in the largest of imaginable places that resembles the smaller, that takes on the characteristics of another system within a system within yet another system.  The further out we head from tiny atoms to the great expanse of our own universe, we begin to see how each thing is connected and most importantly, it reminds us that we are a part of everything.