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Dandelion/Kimberly Burnham - SpokaneFAVS

Who decides what’s a weed, and should we really destroy them?

By Kimberly Burnham

Who decides whether these plants in the garden are weeds or not? Who decides the defining characteristics of a weed? Who are we trying to root out of our community garden?

There is a joke: The difference between a weed and a flower is easy to tell. You just pinch the bottom of the plant stem near the ground and pull straight up. If it comes out easily it is a flower. If the root is so deep and extensive as to make it nearly impossible to pull up, it is a weed.

Weeds are survivors and it takes only a little bit of water and hospitality for them to thrive and contribute to the beauty in the garden. I just put in a small orchard and garden this year in my new home in Spokane, so I am learning a lot about weeds.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction,” said Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring.”

Even though herbicides were introduced during World War II, there are still weeds today. To what lengths should we go and at what cost should we continue to try to kill off all the weeds. Herbicides have been linked with bee colony die off, human diseases, cancers, birth defects, and still we use them. Note that weeds themselves do not generally kill bees, animals or people. Although, Socrates apparently used poison hemlock to kill himself in 399 BCE and poison hemlock is a common Spokane weed.

Many weeds also have herbal medicine value and have been used to cure headaches, inflammation, depression and more for hundreds of years.

There is literally no botanical or biological difference between a weed and a flower. The difference is wantedness. Typically we want flowers to grow. We plant and water flowers in special places. We pull up weeds who volunteer to live in our garden. Often when we plant a tomato seed or gently plant a cucumber start, weeds also start growing in the same area. Very few yards are completely free of weeds.

“We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment,” said Margaret Mead.

Some gardeners will go to great length poisoning the plants deemed weeds with chemicals, blasting them with fire and brimstone, or expelling them. But here is the thing, weeds are just flowers that are unwanted and eventually they come back, and become resistant to the chemicals and the heat or they move to the neighbor’s garden.

“What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” said Henry David Thoreau.

The difference between a flower and a weed is in our mind. Should we choose to destroy weeds or water flowers? When will we, as a society, accept that weeds or controversial ideas like religious freedom and gay marriage are not going away? We can, of course focus our effort on the things we want to support, or the things we think of a flowers.

“We’re like a gardener with a hose and our attention is water – we can water flowers or we can water weeds,” said Josh Radnor. While A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie-the-Pooh said, “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”

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One comment

  1. I so need to print this out and put in my neighbor’s front door 🙂

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