Redefining our relationship to "weeds"

September 21, 2023 7:52 AM

Picture a weed. Or better yet, a mess of them.

Now, what if I told you to turn to a stranger contemplating the same question and share your imaginings: do you think you’d have pictured the same place or plants?

My guess is no.

Sure, I suspect some non-trivial proportion of Iowans reflecting on my prompt let their mind drift quickly to a stand of waterhemp towering over soybeans. But too, I bet just as many (almost certainly more actually) pictured piles of lambsquarters seedlings next to neat row of emerging garden plants. Others pictured a yard carpeted in yellow blooms in early summer, while some picture a pasture overrun with leafy spurge or Canada thistle. Others still, an image of a woodland carpeted in honeysuckle or garlic mustard. Among the boaters, perhaps a lake in August and a with propeller sheathed in an endless twine of submersed plants.

Now, I’m going to get back to this hypothetical, but let me take a brief pause for a confession. Wildlife, and thus wildlife biologists like me, love weeds. A drive past my house in Ames, where you’d see purple coneflower growing from cracks in my sidewalk, cages around volunteer walnut trees in the yard, and a whole third of the lawn in transition from what past owners mowed and yours truly does not, would provide sufficient evidence. Visit the addresses of other wildlife lovers like me throughout Iowa and you’ll find more of the same. We tend to go the way of Ralph Waldo Emmerson’s assertion that a weed is “a plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”

..... continue reading the whole blog post on the Iowa Learning Farms blog here.


Adam Janke Associate Professor

Adam Janke is the statewide Wildlife Extension Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Adam is a trained wildlife biologist, having received a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in wildlife conservation and ecology from three land-grant schools in the Midwest.  He is also certified ...