What is a weed?


“I am not a lover of lawns.  Rather would I see daisies in their thousands, ground ivy, hawkweed, and even the hated plantain with tall stems, and dandelions with splendid flowers and fairy down, than the too-well-tended lawn.” – W.H. Hudson, The Book of a Naturalist (1919)

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fortune of the Republic (1878)

I have a few more wildflower photos (of plants often viewed as weeds) that I wanted to include before they stop blooming. To be honest, in addition to liking the hawkweed and dandelions, I’m also “not a lover of lawns” because mowing the lawn feels like such a waste of time. It’s not like tending vegetables with the promise of food at the end, or like the necessity of cleaning the house – it’s hours of mowing (and the pollution that goes with that), with the promise of more and more mowing. I do like the way it looks when it’s done, but not enough to always keep up with it the way that I should. That said, I think I will now head out and mow the grass – I usually discover some interesting creatures when I do –  and think about how to replace the lawn. Clover grows well here.

Sheryl Crow sings a beautiful tune called, Wildflower (YouTube), and my cat absolutely loves it (it’s those high notes).

Black-eyed Susan

Common Sow Thistle

Bull Thistle

Bladder Campion

79 Responses to “What is a weed?”
  1. donald says:

    beautiful shots! my ex always said that a weed is just a flower growing where you don’t want it!

    “there is splendor in the lone wildflower growing in a field of grain” (i may have misquoted this, but it is from “a place at the table”, which i cannot put my hands on right now)

  2. Raul says:

    You really put mowing the grass into perspective…now I really don’t like it 🙂


  3. Sauerkraut says:

    I am not a big fan of the green concrete (lawn) but I am less a fan of thistles. Those things are weeds and, often, invasive. I welcome their presence as much as I do poison ivy, virginia creeper, mile-a-minute, etc.

    • Cait says:

      I’m with you on the thistles, Sauerkraut, they really do take over wherever they can and are hard to remove.

      • erebusetnox says:

        I have to agree as well – I had a thistle plant in my shade garden that I let go on and on, because it was so huge and interesting…and then I discovered a poor little hummingbird, dead, in its clutches. It got stuck, and quickly perished. Needless to say, I hacked that thing out of there post haste!

  4. sued51 says:

    Your pictures are beautiful! We must have been on the same wavelength…see my blog about weeds…

    Not on the same page about lawns, but I get your perspective…I don’t think my neighbors would like us going all wildflowers…

    • Cait says:

      Hey, that’s cool! I know what you mean, it’s only something you could really do if you didn’t have neighbours nearby. Although the clover…I know some people who live in the city who have a clover lawn. Apparently it’s more drought tolerant.

  5. karyl33 says:

    I love, love, love wildflowers! Great quotes too!

  6. CrystalSpins says:

    Well, I don’t much like dandelions, but around here creeping Jennies are considered weeds and I love those! If I had a chain-link fence I might plant creeping jennies along the bottom so they could climb up it! I live across from a school yard and it is full of clover. It is obviously mowed and tended over the summer. I wonder how the maintenance men feel about mowing down all that clover.


    • Cait says:

      I like Creeping Jenny too, though could definitely see how they could take over! Yeah, I wonder how hard it is to mow clover. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Redge says:

    The pictures are terrific. I agree with your sentiments regarding the lawn. In Canada, our summers are relatively short so the lawn mower doesn’t see that many cuts over the summer season. On the other hand, I would rather cut grass than shovel snow.

    In my opinion, weeds are simply perennials waiting to be reclassified.

  8. A weed is only a ‘weed’ because someone said that they didn’t like it. Otherwise, it would just be another plant growing. I am of the opinion that if it’s growing there, it’s growing there for a reason. That is to say, maybe without the shade from the weed, the plant underneath the weed would be sun-bleached.

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

  9. stroogie says:

    I did some landscaping for a while, and my boss explained to me that the definition of a weed was: “A plant out of place.” If the plant is in the place you want it, then it’s not a weed! Beautiful pics!

  10. Bob says:

    Great post, and I do love your shot. They are superb shot !

  11. Olivia says:

    I have fallen in love with the pics..
    Interestingly, the flowering plants (periwinkle- can you believe it) that some people (Bengali- India) love to grow in their gardens were considered as weeds..
    And what they regarded as weeds (calotropis) were worshiped by the others…!!

    Culture, difference of opinion and want…

    • Cait says:

      I appreciate you pointing that out, Olivia, so much of how we look at anything, including plants, is informed by these things. Thanks for your kinds words!

  12. massive says:

    A huge Bull Thistle grows nere the dryer exaust. it is about 6ft tall, wide as your arms stretched out. it definitely grows like a weed; choking out just about everything else.

    I am a fan of the nature yard as well, but it is nessesary to keep my lawn trim so i have a small few plants that are growing up nere the house where i dont trim and have turned out to be less a weed and more of a piece of beauty. tall wide leafs with a great bulbing flower nere the top mid summer bloom, brilliant reds and bright pinks n some orange.

    Good post !cheers

    • Cait says:

      Thanks massive! The Bull Thistles can really be a pain (literally!), I wasn’t really thinking of that aspect of them when I wrote the post. It’s truly amazing how tall they get.

  13. Nice post, beautiful pictures. I especially like the Black-eyed Susan.

  14. Great pictures. Your chicory picture finally gives a name to a wild flower I have seen all of my life. My mother used to try to get it to grow in her flower garden but never had any luck with that.

    • Cait says:

      Thanks and I’m glad it helped! Funny that the Chickory wouldn’t grow – we had the same experience with Daisies – I guess they don’t want to be tamed!

  15. shoutabyss says:

    In my yard a “weed” is usually whatever grows the fastest and easiest. 🙂

  16. cheneetot08 says:

    Great Photography! Mind if I ask what kind of camera you used to capture these specimens.

  17. Mariah says:

    One of my friends once said in her great New Zealand accent “It’s only a weed if you call it a weed”… I’ve used this reasoning since that day forward (though the HOA might not approve…hahaha)

    Beautiful photos!

  18. Jim says:

    Chicory is prolific along the roadside here in Indiana — this time of year, most highways (outside of cities) are lined in blue.

  19. Bethany says:

    Your pictures are beautiful! I love Daisy’s. It’s amazing how much flowers can really bring a smile to your face.

  20. Ruby says:

    Defining a weed is completely subjective. Perhaps Aldo Leopold described the weediness of Chicory best in his 1943 essay, “What is a Weed?” when he wrote,

    “Chicory (…) School children might also be reminded that during hot dry weather this tough immigrant is the only member of the botanical melting-pot courageous enough to decorate with ethereal blue the worst mistakes of realtors and engineers.”

  21. Tony says:

    Grass in the garden is a weed but in the lawn it’s part of the lawn. Beautiful photos

  22. Tara Aarness says:

    Cait, you may hate me for even suggesting this, but reel/push mowers are better for the environment. Hey, if you must have a lawn for now, at least you will be able to sleep easy with your conscience knowing you helped protect or save our planet, right? Of course if you have a larger lawn, then a push mower most likely wouldn’t be a good solution.

    Weeds are simply beautiful, useful plants in disguise that sometimes annoy the hell out of us. Great photos and blog. 🙂

    • Cait says:

      Hi Tara, I agree, the reel mowers are ideally the way to go. We used one for our first year here, mowing a section everyday, but it was a losing battle! We now have a gas-push mower with a low emission rating and took up some of the lawn with bushes and a vegetable garden. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, it has me thinking of alternatives!

  23. Love the photos…not too many weeds here in NYC…or any vegetation for that matter 🙂

    I’m a singer/songwriter and noticed you like Sheryl Crow. I’m a slightly jazzier version of her and thought you might like it 🙂 My album on itunes is called “In My Own Company” and my blog is http://jenniferleesnowden.wordpress.com. Opened for Norah Jones at a small show in NYC.

  24. braonthree says:

    I agree with both Hudson and Emerson on these issues. I love many, many weeds, and I can’t stand large expanses of lawn. Fill up that space with shrubs and weeds and cultivated plants — you’ll get much more joy of it, and so will the insects and animals.

  25. I bought a package of wild flower seeds for a few years and spread them across the slope in our backyard. Lots of color but they don’t last long as the deer come in and mow them down. So, we have been planting flowering shrubs that the deer don’t seem to care for when they come for a free salad.

  26. Siding with a few previous commenters, my view is that a weed is simply a plant that grows where humans do not want it to grow.

    The interesting thing is that this, indirectly and partially, explains both the arbitrariness of what is considered a weed and why weeds are known for their ability to grow faster and easier than non-weeds: Anyone can have a garden filled with e.g. dandelions—and just because this is so easy, a gardener will see no value in having dandelions.

  27. herbaloo says:

    Congrats on the freshly pressed spot -a chance for Wildflowers to be seen! Great post! I too dream of clover fields, however, they like to be mowed………. But you could just get a couple sheep! Or goats! They are quite good at mowing.

  28. Cait says:

    What wonderful ideas everyone has! I think the clover is no longer a contender then. We’ve thought about getting goats, but then reconsidered because of the fencing they’d need (having seen many a goat on top of someone’s car). Now sheep…maybe that’s the way to go! Thanks for the congrats herballo!

    Thank you everyone for your lovely comments about my blog, your insightful comments on the topic of weeds/wildflowers, and for your suggestions about how to deal with an expanse of lawn in an environmentally sound way – it has been very helpful!

  29. Jennifer Barricklow says:

    Don’t give up on clover! Dutch white clover is perfect in the yard–soft, beautiful, and well-behaved. Before WWII, it was always included in grass seed mixes for lawns because clover helps fix nitrogen in the soil, which greatly helps the grass. After WWII, mass marketing of broadleaf herbicides dictated the development of grass-only yards: sweeping spray applications cannot selectively poison “undesirable” broadleaf plants such as dandelion and plantain without also poisoning “desirable” broadleaf plants such as clover. (For a brief description of my own yard adventures, check out “Here there be dandelions” at my blog.) After this year’s generous rainfall, my yard is a lovely sea of mostly clover. It makes me want to do backflips when I think about all the wonderful soilbuilding going on right under my nose!

    • Cait says:

      Thank goodness, I didn’t want to give up on it! Thanks for the info. Jennifer, I’ll check that out, it gives me great hope! Our lawn has not had any pesticides on it for the several years that we’ve been here and there are many dandelions – so, maybe I will want to do backflips when I think of my lawn someday too!.

  30. Wonderful blog! I’m with you, Cait! I even used the same Emerson quote in my recent blog, “Love Affair With A Weed” — http://uluola.wordpress.com/2010/07/04/love-affair-with-a-weed/ LOL! Great minds…

    I also share your enthusiasm for clover. When I put in our lawn 20 years ago, I mixed New Zealand White Cover into the grass mix, as it’s a legume that sets nitrogen and feeds the lawn for free–also has pretty flowers. A little research revealed the same thing Jennifer talks about above, that after WWII, the chemical companies were searching for ways to replace lost profits from chemical weapons and turned to killing plants instead. They launched a PR campaign to convince the American public that clover was a noxious weed and needed to be eradicated from their lawns. Up until that time, grass seed companies always included it in their mixes to help keep the lawns green with that free nitrogen. During the 1950’s, most finally had to stop doing so. Ha! Some companies actually simultaneously sold grass seed and herbicides and still do, penetrating a hoax and crime against Nature and the U.S. public.

    And dandelions? Their health benefits are so great, there are large dandelion farms that produce capsules of ground root, etc.

    Keep up the great work!

  31. PiedType says:

    When I was a little girl, there was a house in the next block with a large expanse of luscious, intensely green clover in the backyard. I spent many hours there on my knees searching for four-leaf clovers. They were there, if one looked closely. And every one was a treasure to be taken home, pressed, and given to others. I should grow clover for my grandchildren, but as I recall, it prefers shade, and I have none.

  32. Cait says:

    Thank you, Michelle, for your vote of confidence and the great information about clover! Your story about milkweed is really interesting. I like spreading the seeds too, they are so beautiful floating away in the breeze.

  33. Cait says:

    Hi PiedType – thanks for sharing your story. I remember spending hours searching for four-leaved clovers as a kid, too – yes, there were lots – lucky days I guess!

  34. maydelory says:

    I love our photos. What camera are you using?

  35. littlelamblx says:

    I love lawn 😀 even when its not mowed. Actually its probably better when its not mowed because then I can see what the grass really looks like naturally.

  36. My dad hates the lawn at our rented house so much that he brought us to a new home that is lawn-less. Hahahaha.

    Hey check out my blog! 🙂


  37. afcomplex says:

    Lovely pictures. Isn’t it amazing that some weeds have such lovely flowers?

  38. StageIsSet says:

    beautiful shots, amazing…

    Awesome post


  39. buytupperwarebangalore says:

    For the last ten years my very small lawn has never looked like one as tall trees blocked out the sun and the only things growing were weeds. Yes some of them flowered too but…..the grass became more and more sparse till in desperation this month we have finally relaid the lawn with “elephant grass”. we have been told its the hardiest variety around and right now my lawn does look “as pretty as a picture”. Hope it stays that way !

  40. drfugawe says:

    I’m with Emerson on the weed thing – I have a big garden, but I always find it fascinating to watch nature’s choices as opposed to mine – sometimes I just pick out one, taste it, and then do research to learn its name, etc. My current favorite is Lamb’s Quarters, or as it’s known by it’s detractors, Pigweed – absolutely delicious, both in salads and cooked up with garlic and olive oil.

    Another question could be, “what are vegetables?” Just weeds that man has discoved.

    • Cait says:

      You should write on that one (“what are vegetables?”), I saw your vegetable garden photos – beautiful!
      Careful with the tasting! I’m always nervous of doing that, but it sounds like you know what you’re doing. Thanks for stopping by.

  41. Gregg Hake says:

    Lovely post. I am sitting in the airport wondering how many of the people who walk by feel as if they’ve been discarded or discounted as “weeds” amidst their more flowery peers with “virtues yet to be discovered.” Thanks!

  42. I find that perfectly manicured lawns are one of the most violent expressions of control and power that we have in our culture. Think about it: using chemicals designed for war to kill “weeds” and whirring machine blades that can sever appendages to cut little blades of grass. I find dandelions much more interesting than a monoculture of grass.

  43. sayitinasong says:

    Those are weeds??? Wow- would not mind those growing in my back yard…

  44. Bee Yourself says:

    🙂 Thanks for these beautiful photos. I grew up on a farm in the midwest, and was the only one who loved the “weeds” that grew in profusion in the hayfields. The men in my family were so anti-“weed” that any flowering plant (even in a garden) was regarded with disdain. I, however, have always been partial to black-eyed susans, roadside lilies, and daisies. Now that I’ve grown and moved away, my dad always leaves a little patch of black-eyed susans when he sprays for “weeds” – just in case I come home and want to see them. 🙂

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