I always wondered about the plants that grow along the highway embankments and in the sidewalk cracks and curb sides. What are these things and how do they survive in what seem to be very hostile conditions? I like plants and flowers as much as the next person and I have had my garden plot full of colorful annual flowers, then an extensive herb garden, then a more extensive native plant garden and, somewhere mixed with the native plant garden, a weed garden. Yes, I grew (on purpose) weeds.
So the topic of weeds inevitably brings up the question: What is a weed? I think Merriam-Webster has one of the better definitions: a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth. I have come across many descriptions that call weeds “of little value“, and claim they are “dangerous to other plants“. From a natural history point of view, such descriptions could be applied to many highly prized plants and are not necessarily true of a number of things we call weeds.
My interest in weeds started, as previously mentioned, out of curiosity then grew into an obsession. I would go out for my after dinner walk and scan the sidewalk for weeds, pluck them up (nobody seemed to care about them) and then take them home to key them out, which is something I will explain in another post. After I attempted to identify and press the weeds I would paste them in a small scrapbook with the name, date, and where it was collected. During one period of time I did not have much chance to tend to my native plant garden so I made a conscious decision to let the weeds grow among the other plants and see what came up.
I am not a keeper of things and I hate clutter. This habit made for an easy relocation but it also was the cause of my tossing my weed book*. I remember having it in my hand and at the very last minute adding it to the trash can. It is the only thing I am sorry I did not keep. Oddly, when I moved I ended up in a volunteer position collecting wild plants and since weeds are also wild plants, I got to continue my practice. I will discuss this volunteer job along with plant identification in my next post. (*A few people mentioned this to me in comments and emails so I need to clarify that the weed book I tossed was the scrapbook of weeds I collected, not the guides pictured above, I still have those!).