An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of November 17, 2002
Issued from the woods just south of Natchez, Mississippi, USA

"WEED"

A year or so ago Newsletter subscriber Greg Scott in Wisconsin stumbled over one of my sentences in which I used the word "weed," and rightly so. I cringe a little myself when I use that word, but I do it because of the need to communicate with a language that, like all languages, uses words whose meanings are only approximate, and too often reveal unfortunate cultural prejudices and misunderstandings.

American writer and transcendental philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson asked and answered: "What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not been discovered."

A more usual definition is that a weed is a plant growing where it's not wanted.

Thus, the Passion Flower rambling along the plantation manager's garden fence, with large blossoms among the prettiest of the plant kingdom and a prized guest in many greenhouses and gardens, is a weed to the plantation manager.

I even have trouble with the word "weed" in the above list of Mississippi's ten worst ones. In places right around my trailer Japanese Honeysuckle and Chinese Privet overwhelm the local flora. Not far away, Kudzu overtops every bush and tree, gradually killing them with shade. In my gardens Johnsongrass is a plague. Yet...

Who knows what these plants' value will be as global warming stresses our native plants and animals, and fractures our natural ecosystems? Eventually our "weeds" will evolve subspecies and new species more adapted to our local conditions, and maybe those new taxa will generously contribute to the local ecosystem and stabilize it by dealing with the new climate better than our native species. Already one sees bees contentedly visiting Kudzu blossoms, and we all know that nothing makes a hummingbird happier than a Japanese Honeysuckle blossom in June.

In a certain way, an alien "weed" introduced into an ecosystem of native organisms is like an African drum-rhythm suddenly intruded into a dreamy blues. For a moment there's confusion, but before long the singer "gets the African beat in his blood," wraps one of his old melodies around it, and eventually has something new more engaging than either the drum-beat or the old blues song.

I don't know what my final thoughts will be about "weeds." I do know that as time passes I find myself admiring and indentifying with "weeds" more and more. One reason is that in this world where natural things inevitably succumb to mall parking lots and other manifestations of unrestrained human appetites, on an emotional level it's always safer to invest one's emotional currency with weeds than with native trees and wildflowers. Facebook Icon.