A Rose By Any Other Name

I’ve often heard people say, “A ‘weed’ is just a word for a plant that’s growing where you don’t want it.”

But that isn’t really true, is it! Think about it: If someone gets a volunteer rosebush or fruit tree springing up on their property (lucky person!), while they might not want it in the place where it happened to spring up, they would still be unlikely to refer to that rosebush or fruit tree as a “weed.”

What a so-called “weed” actually is, is a wild plant whose name and attributes we have not yet learned. “We” being so-called “sophisticated, modern” humans — because for sure whatever that plant is, it has been long named and known by people indigenous to the place where the plant came from.

There’s no shame in not knowing a plant’s name and attributes. Even the real plant experts probably don’t know them all. Where the shame lies is in disparaging and demonizing plants that we have not bothered to learn about. It’s the same disrespectful, throwaway attitude that underlies the whole consumer-industrialist-colonizer culture.

In permaculture design, one of the ethics is “care of people and all other species.” It includes the idea that every species has value and serves its role in the ecosystem.

Does this mean we have to allow every plant that springs up in our space to stay there? No — but I will say the more I learn about the various wild plants I meet, the less inclined I am to want to get rid of any plant that appears in my yard. Of course this doesn’t mean you’re obligated to (for example) allow a plant with huge thorns or stinging hairs to stay right next to your child’s swingset, your dog’s potty area, or whatever.

Want to help decolonize the dominant culture? Learn the names and attributes of plants that grow wild in your area. The ones most people write off as “weeds.” You’ll discover all sorts of free food and medicine, and you’ll start to see beauty everywhere.

Suggested places to start: Look up permaculture guilds, bioregional groups, native-plant societies, wildflower associations, foragers’ groups in your region. You can also try doing a search on “weed walk” plus the name of your city/county/region. If you can’t find such organizations right in your local area, check at the state level.

Speaking of so-called “weeds,” you might enjoy this micro meadow I planted on the roof of my new addition to my Little Free Library. The plants I planted in the little box include blanket flower, spiderwort, wild plantain, and Florida peppergrass. (I dug them up from an empty lot that I knew was probably about to get mowed because it was starting to look soft, meadowy, flowery, and uneven in length. All great sins to the turfgrass industry!) It gives me great joy to showcase the beauty of wildflowers and other wild plants in this way.