The remarkable tenacity of weeds


Photo by Flickr user Randi Hausken, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A book from a couple years ago just landed on my reading list thanks to Lynne Rosetto-Kasper’s conversation with Richard Mabey. The Splendid Table’s host talks with the author about his 2010 book, Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants. As he describes,

The first weeds only happened when human beings began cultivating plants. In choosing a plant that was going to be domestically desirable, you automatically, even without thinking, created the category of plants that were not desirable. When the latter began intruding as they instantly did into the territories that you allocated for the growing of your food plants, then the category of weed was created and the circumstances under which it would flourish were also created.

As Elizabeth Royte writes in her review of the book in The New York Times,

One can’t help being impressed by weeds’ ingenuity. They’ve grown hooks, burrs, spines, rib hairs and a sort of glue to move their seeds around. (Non-weeds have similar clever tricks, though Mabey, in his zealous weed exceptionalism, doesn’t mention that.) Weeds reproduce quickly: the underground stems of nettle, for example, can grow two feet a year. Weeds can also bide their time until conditions suit their fancy….

For all our attempts to thwart weeds, they’ve almost always gotten the upper hand. Many times, Mabey explains, our efforts at eradication have actually improved weeds’ fitness.

For more, check out Rosetto-Kasper’s interview, Royte’s review, and reviews in The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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