What Is a Weed?

(newyorker.com)

45 points | by andsoitis 368 days ago

18 comments

  • tivert 368 days ago
  • poulsbohemian 368 days ago
    my uncle with an ag degree has always said “a weed is any plant in a place you don’t want it.” I’m getting better at accepting this and moving / pulling things that may be beautiful but have outgrown their spot in my yard.
    • HeyLaughingBoy 368 days ago
      I actually learned this from "Space Ghost: Coast to Coast" when SG was interviewing an Ag professor from Georgia Tech.

      Who said you can't learn anything from cartoons?

      • kevviiinn 367 days ago
        I forgot about that show. Some great memories with that one
    • zdragnar 368 days ago
      My dad, who grew up on a farm, always said the same thing.
    • mc32 368 days ago
      Yes, I think that's a working definition, but usually referring to non-woody plants.
  • Xcelerate 368 days ago
    My 2-year-old likes to pick dandelions; she will hand them to me and say "Here is a pretty yellow flower for you Daddy". How could I tell her that adults have decided to arbitrarily classify these flowers as "weeds"? The amount of joy that the dandelion brings to her makes me think we could all be a little bit happier if we embraced these plants instead of attempting to eradicate them.
  • zwieback 368 days ago
    This is why I still love the New Yorker: touching on urban foraging, industrial agriculture, native wisdom and Amish people, this article had so many chances to go wrong but ended up being a delightful read.
    • stcroixx 368 days ago
      Agree on this article and it's why I used to love the magazine and was a subscriber for many years. Unfortunately, it got to the point where this kind of content was increasingly rare and I unsubscribed a few years ago.
      • zwieback 368 days ago
        I usually get the online version for free from my public library via Overdrive
  • bcrosby95 368 days ago
    Funny, I had this talk with my kids a few weeks back. I settled on a weed being "something growing in a place the speaker doesn't want it" - and that it was completely subjective.

    I think it's also arguable that something can only be a weed in a human managed landscape. We have hills around us that no one manages and I would argue that nothing up there is a weed.

    This also segues into what is "nature". My kids like to say "be kind to nature". I don't care if they pull up the grass in the hills around us, but I do care about them pulling up grass at the park. Arguably a park isn't anymore "nature" than the houses and streets we build. It's all fake nature - just an organic version of astroturf.

  • wahnfrieden 368 days ago
    > Ralph Waldo Emerson described weeds as plants “whose virtues have not yet been discovered"

    Agreed!

  • zwieback 368 days ago
    I'm about to eat some shelling peas I foraged on the edge of a grass field (yeah, we grow grass seeds as a crop here). The peas were last years crop so not exactly a weed but effectively the same thing.
    • bryanlarsen 368 days ago
      Farmers call those peas "volunteer crops". Volunteer crops are considered weeds.
      • goda90 368 days ago
        #1 weed among in my garden last year was tomatoes. I let tomatoes fall off the vine and drop their seeds the year prior, and last year I planted something else entirely, but the tomatoes made an appearance. They hybridize easily, so whatever was growing was some weird conglomeration of several varieties of tomato.
        • mvdtnz 368 days ago
          I can't stop potatoes from growing in my compost. I let the first bunch get out of hand and now I'm stuck with them. They make my compost worthless because I end up propagating potatoes to any bed I try to compost. I'm in potato hell.
          • zwieback 368 days ago
            That stopped for me when I got those big plastic boxes that totally enclose the compost. I don't live in super potato friendly climate though
        • zwieback 368 days ago
          Yeah, tomatoes are the worst, at this point I'm like rain man OCD about picking up any tomato that falls. If you let them grow they become just medium size medium flavor supermarket tomato bastards.
        • djbusby 368 days ago
          Tomacco?
  • Arrath 368 days ago
    To my girlfriend a weed is anything not part of a manicured lawn, as far as I can tell.

    My protests of "that's a native plant!" matter not.

    • friend_and_foe 368 days ago
      My girlfriend finds the edible ones (hint: almost all of them are edible) and we eat them together.
  • tomcar288 368 days ago
    personally I try to grow as much clover in my grass as possible. it has so many benefits: it uses a bit less water and stays more green without nitrogen inputs and can even help fix a little bit of nitrogen in the soil. then I use both the grass and clover, when I cut it, as a nitrogen source to top the soil with.
    • RajT88 368 days ago
      My lawn is a mix of grasses, clovers (red and white), moss, lichen, and of course dandelions and a few other things I don't know the names of.

      Most of the time it's beautiful, except when the dandelions are doing overtime shooting up flower stalks.

  • friend_and_foe 368 days ago
    I consider grass to be a weed, and I prefer to have other things grow.

    Lawn grass is a cover crop to prevent soil erosion. It is pretty good at that job, at the cost of constant maintenance and expense. There are plenty of other plants that can grow and cover the land, not grow tall on their own, are comfortable to walk on and as a bonus, actually have uses. A patchwork of wild plants, mint varieties and thyme varieties would be ideal for me. Can you imagine the smell? And I can eat them whenever I want. Converting a patch of land into something like this is something of a life goal for me.

  • ianburrell 368 days ago
    There does need to be name for plants that are always considered weeds in an area. "Invasive" is used for prolific spreaders but is frequently reserved for non-natives.

    Japanese weed is a good example. Maybe it is well behaved in native range, but in US and most of the world, it is invasive and super-problematic. Another is poison hemlock, which is wise to carefully remove since it is poisonous and invasive. It also depends on the area, English ivy is noxious weed around here because it is invasive and spreads well, but lots of people still like it.

  • austin-cheney 368 days ago
    One of the most common weeds in North Texas are various forms of wild lettuce. We have had entire salads picked from weeds in the yard. Less common and less aggressive than wild lettuce are dandelions which taste so much better.

    An interesting note is that I have seen wild lettuce grow almost everywhere including both Afghanistan and the deserts of central California. Wild lettuce is called Lactuca from Latin which is where the English word lactose comes from. Lettuce gives off a thick white latex sap when broken which is a mild relative of heroine.

    • rerx 368 days ago
      Rather than 'lactose' being derived from 'lactuca', I'm pretty sure that both words just have a common root 'lac', the Latin word for 'milk'
  • ghaff 368 days ago
    Mint is very clearly an herb. Given the right conditions, it will also pretty much overtake large patches of garden and lawn. I generally take a very Darwinian approach to what grows in and around my garden given that any careful curation tends to get overtaken by native grasses from my field. But the mint can be a bit much--though I mostly let it do what it wants at this point.
    • amanaplanacanal 368 days ago
      where are you that you still have native grasses? where I live it's all introduced lawn grasses that take over everything.
      • ghaff 368 days ago
        I don't know how literally native they are in central Massachusetts given the cycles of forests, forests being cut down, and fields regrowing. But it's certainly not lawn grasses. Meadows in New England generally are not lawn grasses.
  • mfwit 368 days ago
    Leave it to HN to get me to buy a book about weeds.
  • mlhpdx 368 days ago
    Douglas Fir. Not a weed when over 100 years? Definitely a weed when 100s of seedlings sprout in my garden each spring?
    • Maciek416 368 days ago
      True. I get the same volunteers (+ thuja + bigleaf + etc) and put quite a few of them into pots.

      Eventually though, doug fir reverts back to a sort of weed status later on, when the accumulated effects of human fire suppression causes doug fir to start crowding out other species and interferes with the typical succession pattern. Harder to notice in the PNW, but if you look at NorCal especially, there are areas that would typically be a more open woodland with (say) oak. Instead these are jam-packed with doug fir due to lack of fire. From the perspective of anyone (whether human, animal, or plant) who misses the pre-suppression woodland state that's normally regulated by regular "good" fire, doug fir is indeed a weed. There normally isn't _this_ much of it stretching all the way from Alaska to Mexico.

    • CommieBobDole 368 days ago
      Same with Tulip Poplar. It's a very nice tree, I don't need 500 of them in my landscaping every spring, thanks.
      • HeyLaughingBoy 368 days ago
        Let's show some hate for the dreaded Box Elder Maple! Only tree I know that can outcompete grass.
    • zwieback 368 days ago
      Our state tree. And it's not even actually a fir, just pretends to be one.
  • macawfish 368 days ago
    "The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgement"
    • TaupeRanger 368 days ago
      "The difference between a want and a not-want is wanting"
  • HPsquared 368 days ago
    Same sort of question: what is a byproduct?
    • raspyberr 368 days ago
      What is a side effect?
      • dredmorbius 367 days ago
        By analogy to side guy / chick: it's the effect your technology / therapy / method / praxis is two-timing you with.
  • splitstud 368 days ago
    [dead]