Good Weed! Bad Weed!

March 28, 2019

If you’re a city dweller, you probably don’t think much about weeds except for the occasionally dandelion in your front yard. Gardeners often have a mixed opinion on weeds depending on the specific kind, and if you are a professional farmer, you likely see nothing redeeming about weeds.


While lambsquarter gives some farmers nightmares, others cultivate it in their gardens because they say it’s delicious.

 As with most things time softens or even change opinions. Given that it is National Weed Appreciation Day, it seems a good time to explore the emerging school of thought that not all weeds are created equal. So, is it a good weed or a bad weed?


Some folks prefer to wax poetic and argue a weed is simply a plant growing out of place. Well, that’s largely hokum. They got their original classification as weeds because they have no redeeming value as far as food, nutrition or medicine are concerned. But there is a growing appreciation for the ecological contributions being made by some weeds as habitat and breeding magnets and for stopping erosion in areas that might otherwise be left bare.


One good example is the common milkweed. Considered a pest in tillable acres, many farmers are now content to let it grow along tree lines, in ditches or in areas left unfarmed to provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Monarch butterflies need milkweed plants because they exclusively lay their eggs on them. Adequate milkweed populations have become central to the survival of the Monarch species.


So, why the historic weed loathing in agriculture? Weeds compete for space and nutrients with cash crops, they look unsightly, they can gum up or even jam equipment during harvest, removing them is time intensive and expensive and left unchecked they can render farmland nearly useless because of their massive seed production and aggressive growth. And lest we forget, some are poisonous to livestock that calls pastures home.


Another example of a weed that gets mixed reviews is Queen Ann’s Lace. Commonly found in rural areas and along highways, it is usually mowed down during the summer. Yet some city dwellers stop to dig these “wildflowers” up to transplant them in their home gardens.


So, while some invasive species of weeds remain unwanted guests to farmers, and likely will indefinitely, others are being redefined and finding an appreciation heretofore unseen.