Doug Burgess

           Weeds - our constant companions.  From our earliest attempts at agriculture, weeds have found opportunity in our fields. They thrive in a world disturbed by digging sticks, tractors or spade. They mimic our crops, contaminate our harvest, harbor destructive pests, and gobble up the fertilizer and water intended for food production. As we expand our management of the landscape, the weeds follow. They are springing up everywhere, and spreading. We seem to struggle vainly trying to keep our farms, suburban landscapes, urban spaces, and wilderness areas free of weeds. The more we control, the more the weeds invade, the more we must control.

In North America, many of plants we call weeds came from Europe. Very few North American natives have returned the favor to Europe. While we list one after another of our native species on the endangered roster, the weeds thrive, even as farmers, grounds-keepers, gardeners, and homeowners wage intensive chemical warfare.  

Weeds may be the most common plants we see.  Some are even food plants that have escaped our control. Weeds are able to thrive in the most in-hospitable environments: trash littered vacant lots, polluted industrial sites, oil soaked railways, nuclear waste sites and bone dry gravel road-sides. Watered lawns and fertilized crop-lands are Elysian fields to the weeds. Despite generations of eradication efforts, weeds survive and flourish. Ironically many of them depend exclusively on us for that survival, not existing outside of the man-managed environments in which we see them. Some have been with us thousands of years.

Yet with modern transportation, we are creating new weeds every day. They begin as benign plants that are suddenly transported to a new part of the world. If this new location suits their growth, but has none of the usual controls, explosive growth follows.

           “Weed” is not a scientific concept; it is a social one. A weed is usually defined as a plant out-of-place. We, of course, are the ones deciding what is or is not in the proper place. Even native plants growing in their native environment may be weeds. When it is time to “cut the weeds,” it usually includes everything, invaders and natives alike.  

             he most prevalent weeds have many common attributes. They jump up first, grow furiously, seed or reproduce prolifically, seem to need little water or soil, can withstand trampling, repeated cutting, and spraying. Some have truly awesome powers of survival.

            The relationship between weeds and people may be one our most enduring relationships with the natural world. The weeds do not have our sense of self-consciousness, they do not use tools, they are not capable of rational thinking, they do not have free will, they can’t even move after roots are in place. Yet their numbers and colonization parallels our own.

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Elysian Fields...
up every where...

even as farmers
out of place...