Take Another Look at Those Wild Surreptitious Weeds

I don’t do much gardening anymore and our present landscapers here in Florida do not want to tangle with alien labs disposable too much, unless we tangle with the landscapers. Yet, I am partial to weeds.

Even when I used to garden extensively while we lived on Long Island, I let the dandelions and the purslane grow wild in a few patches. I wasn’t trying to stump on anyone else’s good gardening sense, but was raising salad for myself. That in itself was one good reason to love weeds. Sautéed purslane or dandelion leaves mixed with garlic and dressed in olive oil and vinegar make tasty side dishes.

In Florida, as weeds, there are crabgrass or other expendable and unknown greenery (at least unknown to me) that tend to take over and suffocate other costly plants I dare to put in and forget to take care of later, partly because we are rarely home. These weeds have a deep green hue and are resistant to the sub-tropical sun’s rays. From afar, our yard seems lush to the person who has never seen what crabgrass looks like. So, how can I call a weed a “weed,” if it fools, at least, some of the people some of the time?

According to the publication “Weed Science” that comes in volumes and supplements, there are more than 600 weeds in Florida and new ones are showing up everyday together with the migration of the masses toward south, their seeds and spores riding on the cars, trains, boats, and luggage. With the fast spread of the northern species down south, we shall need planned parenting for weeds, in other words, limiting weed seeds into an area.

Weeds are plants that thrive in disturbed or cultivated areas and in sunlight, shade, or semi-shade. Most weeds are invasive. They establish roots immediately and prosper where other plants do not dare to venture. Still, by plowing, mulching, and constant vigilance, one can control the spread of most weeds in the garden and flower beds.

In reality, weeds impart some wisdom through their surprising qualities. Most of what we call weeds are splendid herbs and have medicinal virtues. We may find them bitter but we may learn from them the most. Just like some people.

Although there is little research on the medicinal value of common weeds, folk medicine of centuries dictates otherwise. Weeds may have a positive impact other than being used as cures and balms. They may actually improve the soil.

Weed Science Society of America (wssa.net) has taken a few steps toward that direction, encouraging an awareness of weeds and their influence on the environment. For example, weeds such as purslane, ragweed, nettles, and pigweed break down the ground all the way to subsoil to bring up minerals to the topsoil. They act as companion crops to garden plants by paving the way for their roots to reach to nutrients that, otherwise, the garden plants wouldn’t be able to reach. Another group, like horsetails and sorrels, are proven indicators that the soil has become too acidic.

Most weeds can be controlled by introducing biological resources, like certain moths and fungi; however, it was recently proven that weeds borrowed genes from genetically engineered plants to become resistant to insects. Taking the easy way and using toxic materials in huge amounts may control the weeds, but that practice poses a higher risk to the environment.

Knowing and recognizing different plant species and weeds could be very helpful to any weekend gardener. Aside from, not having to lean on the herbicides with their poisonous side effects too much, recognizing certain nasty weeds such as poison ivy, sumac and horsenettle and staying away from them would help evade unpleasant skin rashes.

If plants and people become weeds, it happens maybe because their timing is off. Probably, they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and because of that, they lose their point of view and significance. So, they end up forcing themselves on us and in our gardens where they are not wanted.

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