What, Exactly, Is a Weed?

Undoubtedly, this sounds like a stupid question. The question struck me as somewhat foolish as well, since I had just spent three hours yanking weeds. But, the thing is, some of those weeds I kind of liked. After thinking about this question for a day or so, I looked up the definition of a “weed,” and that definition fit my situation exactly. In multiple sources, a weed was defined as an unwanted plant growing in the wrong or undesirable place. Coneflowers in the middle of a field of wheat are weeds. Dandelions growing in an open prairie are not.

Flowers that I’ve planted then ripped up and watched as they returned–I consider those weeds. Here is Mexican Heather, which is supposed to be an annual. It died as expected last winter, and now it is back in a space reserved for purple verbena. I let it stay because of its pluckiness. If it comes back again, I’m unsure what I’ll do. I may dig up the lantana for the second time and move it to the backyard or try weedkiller—who knows.

Mexican heather, invading the verbena

Tickseed, which grows into bright yellow waves each spring, is a notorious spreader. There is a patch about three-feet square in the northwest corner of the yard, and that patch seeds every spot of bare soil around. I have found tickseed all over the yard. I wonder how long before the neighbors have a friendly word with me about it. Of course, it goes both ways. I’ve pulled plants grown by neighbors that have found a home in my yard.

Then there are the plants everyone considers weeds. Oddly, some of those I like. Consider this plant: It is likely either field bindweed or false buckwheat. I like the leaf shape and the dark green color. It grows under the deck and, in late summer, grows intertwined with the coneflowers and canna lilies. I used some once for a still life. Each summer, some of it is allowed to grow  just in case I want to use it in a photo.

Bindweed or False Buckwheat on Coneflowers

Violets are also plants with weed-ish tendencies. Small patches add welcome color and vibrancy to the front yard garden, but are shunned as invaders amid the backyard fescue.

Violets embedded in Creeping Jenny

Groups of snowdrops show up in the backyard where there used to be a sweet gum tree. Until recently, I considered them weeds, but now that I have added other flowers to that space, I look forward to seeing them. As a gardener, I have undergone an odd evolution. First, I started providing water for bees and wasps, and now I find some weeds worth growing–did not see that coming.

Crawling around in the dirt, watching plants and insects live and thrive gives one an appreciation for life that cannot happen from afar. But, a gardener who decides some weeds are not so bad? Well, that seems a bit off. Maybe I spent too much time in the sun this summer, and winter will chill this new mellowness. Unless, of course, January brings a huge patch of perfect snowdrops.


  1. A weed is just a plant with bad PR!!!

    1. Author

      Yes!!! Thanks for the laugh!!!

  2. There is a gravel path behind a local service club near here, used mostly by 4 wheelers and a few dirt bikes but few others. It runs near a small stream. It is bordered by tall “weeds” in late summer so that it becomes almost a hidden path. By late morning those “weeds” are covered with many kinds of bees, flies, and other flying insects, all very busy with the millions of flowers on display. I love walking down this path, just listening and watching all the activity.

    1. Author

      Isn’t it wonderful to discover beauty in everyday things? That path sounds like a wonderful place to take a stroll.

      Gardening has given me an appreciation for the little things that I failed to notice for so many years. Watching the yearly cycle unfold brings such a sense of satisfaction and gratitude.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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