Intruders in the Dust

Unbidden, unwished-for, they appear: blossoms and tendrils alike awash in sunlight and rain — growing, grasping, greedily seeking to establish themselves in territory reserved for another.
Intruder, thy name is Weed.


As the eldest son of Swedish immigrant parents who met and married in this country, my father surely didn’t teach me the verse. It’s even less likely that my grandparents introduced me to it.  Perhaps I heard the bit of faux-history-in-a-ditty on a playground, or from one of the Norwegians in town who wasn’t averse to a bit of ethnic humor.

But, in truth? I probably learned it from my mother. She never criticized my grandmother — her mother-in-law — openly. Still, a certain tension flared between them occasionally, obvious enough in retrospect to make me believe that a slightly peeved daughter-in-law just might have introduced her own daughter to this bit of oblique commentary on Swedish national character.

Ten thousand Swedes ran into the weeds at the Battle of Copenhagen.
Ten thousand Swedes ran into the weeds, chased by one Norwegian.

For years, I assumed Norwegians had brought the couplets to this country from their former home.  Centuries of conflict between Sweden and Norway certainly made it seem plausible. In an article titled, “Ten Thousand Swedes: Reflections on a Folklore Motif,” Peter A. Munch notes:

During about four centuries of Danish rule, with numerous wars between Denmark-Norway and Sweden, the Norwegians had become conditioned to think of ‘the Swede’ as the traditional enemy.
Folk tradition in Norway, even during the 19th century, was rich in tales about the alleged atrocities of Swedish troops campaigning in Norway during the Danish period, as well as heroic and clever deeds accomplished by Norwegians in their many encounters with the Swedes.

Norwegians migrating to America during the late 1800s brought this strong sense of identity with them, and took pains to reinforce it as they moved into homes next to their former enemy. Beyond that, says Munch:

There was a constant need to point out and emphasize one’s national identity over against other Americans, who were wont to lump Danes,Norwegians, and Swedes together as Scandinavians: a habit which annoyed the Scandinavians no end, especially the Norwegians.

Nevertheless, despite my assumptions and the history of national rivalry, the humorous jabs seem to have been born in the American Midwest. For evidence, Munch points out that the rhyming of “Swede” and “weed” has no counterpart in the Norwegian language, and the verses recited in America seem always to have been spoken in English.

Beyond that, whether the Battle of Copenhagen refers to a naval battle between England and the Dano-Norwegian fleet in Copenhagen harbor (1801), or the conquest of Copenhagen by the English (1807), the Swedes weren’t involved. As much fun as the rhymes may be for the Norwegians, they make far better poetry than history.

As a child, I didn’t care about the source of the rhyme or its historical accuracy. It was enough to laugh at the sound of it, and enjoy the thought of the weeds. I imagined them taller than fully-grown corn and just as thick: capable of hiding ten thousand Swedes as easily as our cornfields hid clutches of  hide-and-seeking children.

Over time, I began to recognize that weeds come in all shapes and sizes. Much to my chagrin, I also discovered that their presence in our world isn’t universally appreciated.

Broadleaf plantain, whose seeds provided morning cereal or a nighttime snack for my dolls, was not on the approved list. The sweet-smelling clover that made such lovely bouquets was tolerated, but barely. The same dandelions that provided so many hours of pleasure — weaving garlands with friends, blowing away the fluff — seemed to evoke some deep, unreasoned animosity among the adults of the world.

Even my easy-going father wasn’t immune. The appearance of a single, plump, yellow blossom in the middle of our beautifully manicured lawn would send him running for the dandelion digger: a tool perfectly designed to dispatch the evil weed, taproot and all. Like those storied Norwegians at Copenhagen, when my dad set his mind to confronting the enemy, there would be no quarter given.

Ten thousand weeds confronted one Swede at the Battle of Lawn-Grown-Over.
Ten thousand weeds succumbed to the Swede, cut down by one lawn mower.

Sitting around the dinner table, as we argued the fate of the dandelions (Let ’em grow, and make wine versus Kill ’em all, and smile in the process), one truth became obvious: categories are slippery. Which is flower, and which is weed? Which deserves to thrive? Which demands destruction? Are all invasive plants necessarily weeds? What of  native wildflowers that choose to bloom where something more useful has been planned — say, in the middle of the tomato patch?

In certain cases, the answer is easy. Water hyacinth, hydrilla, kudzu, and Johnson grass are not only invasive and destructive, they may be illegal.

Even the fragrant honeysuckle, a trademark of languid southern nights, can be tricky. Western white honeysuckle is native in Texas, but the better known Japanese honeysuckle is capable of murder.

People continue to plant it, thinking to confine its lovely flowers and sweet perfume to that nice trellis in the back yard. But they turn their backs, and before you can say, “Honey, where’d I put that machete?” the vine has blocked the door to the doghouse, covered up the camellias and is in the process of strangling the crepe myrtle.

Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

A number of plants listed in guides to native Texas wildflowers evoke the same cautious ambivalence. In their Wildflowers of Houston & Southeast Texas, John and Gloria Tveten suggest that the “lawnflower would be largely overlooked if it were not, as the name suggests, a troublesome lawn weed.” 

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center strikes a more conciliatory tone, saying, “Depending on your point of view, Straggler Daisy or Horseherb [Lawnflower] is a pest or a welcome, shade-tolerant groundcover that tolerates moderate foot traffic. If you have a shady lawn anywhere within its range, you probably already have it.”

As for the Native Plant Society of Texas, an article from their Trinity Forks Chapter newsletter suggests lawnflower as a good native substitute for traditional grass lawns that demand far more in terms of fertilizer, water, and weed control.

Prostrate Lawnflower (Calyptocarpus vialis)

Things do get complicated in the great outdoors. When I came across my first Purple Leatherflower vine, the Texas native was clambering over an assortment of bushes, shrubs, and debris at the edge of the Brazos River in East Columbia. I made a return visit to see if I could find more blooms, or perhaps some of its seeds, but found only a tidied-up space where the plants had been. Apparently, someone had resolved an internal debate by declaring the vine a weed, and pulling it out.

Purple Leatherflower, Purple Clematis bud (Clematis pitcheri)
Purple Leatherflower, Purple Clematis (Clematis pitcheri)

About a month later, amid the trellised blackberry vines at a picking farm down the road, I found another plant I’d never seen: the beach ground cherry. My buckets full, I plucked one of blossoms and carried it with me to the checkout counter. “What’s this?” I said, laying it on the counter. The girl helping me picked it up and turned it around. “Where’d you find it?” “Out in the blackberries,” I said. “The Kiowas.”  “Oh,” she said, “it’s just a weed. All sorts of things grow out there, but we don’t pull them after the fruit starts to set.”

Beach Ground Cherry (Physalis cinerascens)

Through the whole of blackberry season, I kept looking for “just weeds.” Mixed in with the tomatoes, blackberries, squash, and zinnias were some of most striking wildflowers and fruits imaginable. Many of them, I’d never seen.

Sharp-Pod Morning Glory  (Ipomoea trichocarpa)
Purple Passion-Flower (Passiflora incarnata)
Erect dayflower, Widow’s tears (Commelina erecta)
Philadelphia Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus)

During my last visit of the season, in the midst of my berry picking, I noticed a woman with a camera down the row from me.  Only a few inches from her subject, she hardly noticed my approach.

After she’d clicked the shutter, I asked if she was photographing blackberries instead of picking them. She laughed, and pointed to a tiny clump of primrose just at the edge of the row. “I came for these,” she said, before adding that she’d  started documenting wildflowers on the farm more than two years earlier. During the season, she often visited two or three times each week.

“Lots of folks wouldn’t bother,” she said. “A few years ago, I wouldn’t have bothered. I used to think anything you couldn’t harvest was a weed. Finally, I figured out these so-called weeds are pretty nice, too.”

And so they are. They’re pretty, and interesting. Each of them has a history, and each of them is a part of our heritage. If we’re willing to get a little dusty, we’ll find they’re not intruders at all.

Comments always are welcome.

94 thoughts on “Intruders in the Dust

  1. Your words speak to me so they are music to my ears. Of course I champion almost all forms of flora with the exceptions of course being those that you mentioned and a few more that are introduced species.

    On my one acre I have the Leather vine clematis plus the Passion vine which I planted to serve as a host plant tor the fritillary butterflies. Also more of the natives that you posted. Japanese honeysuckle is a bane in my yard and I have yet to eradicate the blooming idiot. If only folks knew what a pest this plant becomes. The Texas honeysuckle is so much better and it also provides fruit for the birds.

    I enjoyed reading about the conflict between the Norse and the Swedes. Locally, there is a Norwegian community in Clifton,Texas. The descendants of the early setters have maintained ties with Norway.I’m not sure if the younger folks are as keen as their forefathers but I think celebrations are still held at various times.

    1. Believe it or not, Yvonne, the photo of the Japanese honeysuckle was taken at the Anahuac Wildlife Refuge. That’s about as isolated as you can get around here, and yet there it was, looking for all the world as though it was going to take over the place. How it got established way out there, I wouldn’t even guess, except I will guess and say (1) birds and (2) plantings at old homesteads that aren’t around any more.

      I was surprised to see that lawnflower (which was native to Mexico, but worked its way northward) serves as host to several butterfly species. The flowers are so very small. I guess it just proves it doesn’t take much to make a butterfly happy, especially if the tiny flowers come in big colonies.

      I’ve always enjoyed the spectacle of bluebonnets and paintbrush, but flowers like the purple leatherflower and ground cherry are a different kind of treat.

      My grandparents’ little town was quite a melting pot. There were plenty of Italians, Croatians and Welsh, along with the Swedes and “Norskies.” I still remember one of their neighbors, a Croatian woman, calling Grandma “dat Scandahoovian.” Grandma would get mad, but not mad enough to make a fuss, since the woman kept her supplied with butter and cream.


  2. You have given us a beautiful list of not just names but photos of these lovely weeds. I have bookmarked this particular post so that I may compare what is in the pastures to what you named here.

    I still remember the beautiful blooms on various cacti in AZ. It’s only reasonable we appreciate similarly the blooms of the unpopular but certainly not nefarious weed.

    Thank you for the humorous telling of the conflict among the Swedes, Norwegians and Danes. As you so aptly point out, the word weeds probably doesn’t rhyme with Swedes in another language. It must be American and as unauthentic as spaghetti and meatballs in Italy.

    1. When it comes to folk traditions, “authentic” is as hard to figure out as what’s weed and what isn’t. While it didn’t fit into my blog post, I was fascinated to find this, from “The British Folk Tradition” in “Pennsylvania Songs and Legends,” edited by George Kerson:

      “Fierce and long the battle raged,
      Til’ crushed by the fearful slaughter,
      Ten thousand micks got killed with picks
      At the battle of Boyen Waters.”

      Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? When I first read it, I thought, “Oh, dear. My Irish mother wouldn’t like this.” And in fact, the fellow who collected the verse reported that “one had only to sing this fragment to bring on a small riot if any Irishmen were within earshot.” For context, the verse refers to the defeat of James II at the Battle of Boyne in 1690. Long memories, those folks.

      As for the flowers, I suspect you’ll find quite different ones in your pastures. Some of these like shade, and others like a moister environment. But I’ve no doubt you’ll find many of them. Truth to tell, I’m about to the point of giving up on “weed” entirely, except as a term of convenience. “Invasive” seems better to me, just as “native” and “naturalized” have more nuanced meanings.


  3. Everything has its place. Someone once said to me that weeds were like our bandaids; they come in to play when the earth is damaged or needs a covering. They are the first responders.

    Yesterday I was at the Timaru Botanic Gardens. What was I doing? Looking at their fabulous collections? No, I was down on the ground photographing a dandelion. It took my eye because it had stood all alone on an immaculate lawn. A brave survivor.

    The rhymes you quote remind me of one of our Guy Fawkes rhymes which I now think is appalling but that I loved saying as a child: Guy Fawkes Guy, stick him up high, stick him on a lamp post and there let him die. Really!!! How dreadful is that. And as New Zealanders are always mistaken for Australians we feel that Scandinavian angst about national identity.

    1. The thought of weeds as the earth’s bandages is appealing. And it’s certainly true around here that, whenever there’s digging or overgrazing or other earthy insults, it’s not long before the sunflowers, or goldenrod, or snow-on-the-mountain shows up. Where it’s really a problem is around our bits of prairie. The invasive grasses and other plants pop up along the disturbed land, and keeping them from spreading is difficult.

      I was curious about your dandelion, and see that it’s the same as the common dandelion I’ve pictured above. Did you know that Texas has another dandelion, the native “Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus?” So, we have an invasive dandelion and a native. I suspect the anti-dandelion forces would consider both of them weeds.

      I rather like your Guy Fawkes verse. It reminds me of some of our really quite disgusting childhood poems, which I’ll spare you. There is yet one more connection to the Swedes and Norwegians in the weeds which you’ll find interesting.

      In my comment to Georgette, just above, I included a version of the rhyme which references the Battle of Boyne in 1690. The same source mentions that in Melbourne and Sydney, “children used to gather around convent schools…on the anniversary of the Battle of Boyne, chanting:

      “The Irishmen ran down the hill,
      The Englishmen ran afther,
      And mony a Pat got a bullet in his back
      At the Battle of Boy’an Wather.
      Up to me knees in shandygaff,
      Up to me knees in slauther,
      Up to me knees in Irish blood
      At the Battle of Boy’an Wather.”

      See? Your Guy Fawkes verse wasn’t so bad!


      1. Crumbs, makes our Guy Fawkes rhyme seem anaemic. And we didn’t even have video games to help us out with this violence. ;) I think I have seen the native dandelion on Steve’s site.

        1. Sometimes I wonder if all of our videos, instagrams, camera phones, video games and such aren’t degrading our ability to use words to communicate reality — even unpleasant realities. At the other end of the pleasantness scale, you might enjoy John Burrough’s description of squirrels on Rosemary’s blog. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to capture a squirrel in words, but he certainly did.

          And just so you know: squirrels love dandelions!

          1. Very enjoyable. And squirrels have excellent taste. :) Writing exactly the words we want is very hard work. I know I often use photos to explain/show what I find difficult to put in words. Maybe in earlier years I would have been the travel writer who was able to do watercolour scenes with great rapidity ie I may have a natural affinity with the visual rather than the written.

  4. “But they turn their backs, and before you can say, “Honey, where’d I put that machete?” the vine has blocked the door to the doghouse, covered up the camellias and is in the process of strangling the crepe myrtle.”

    That’s so funny!! And so accurate in so many cases. The plants on my “bad list” are oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose and japanese honeysuckle. No doubt, all of them produce copious seeds or nectar and are wonderful food sources for birds, but when they strangle the trees, action is called for.

    Weeds are very often introduced species (by humans) that have no biological control in the area they are introduced to. Nature doesn’t move anywhere near as fast as humans do, but she eventually catches up. Unfortunately, that is after some plant species go extinct, like American elm or are well on their way, like eastern hemlock.

    1. Glad you enjoyed that little riff, Jeff. Anyone who’s confronted Japanese honeysuckle knows that’s exactly how it happens. I’ve not yet been able to catch one of the vining plants in the act of growing, but there’s no question we could see it if we had the patience. Anything that can put out three feet of tendril overnight can be caught in the act.

      I was surprised to see bittersweet on your list of nasties. Then, I was surprised again to see that there are two kinds of bittersweet, one native and one not. I’ve always loved bittersweet as a fall decoration, but clearly the one I remember from the midwest is the native. And it seems that our version of your multiflora rose is what I learned to call hedge rose (Rosa bracteata).

      Your point about human introduction is spot on. It’s certainly true for Japanese honeysuckle, and my book tells me that our hedge rose was introduced into cultivation in 1893, planted as a windbreak for cattle on the prairie. Now? It’s everywhere, and impossible to miss.

      Looking up the rose, I realized anew that, when I bought my wildflower books for our area, I assumed that all the species they listed would be native plants. Not so!


  5. Having become weary of a perfect lawn, a couple years ago I quit with the insecticides and herbicides. Now the front yard is a haven of clover and this past summer I was delighted to walk through an ankle-level of honey bees, disregarding me.

    As for the dandelions, my solution is to go nip off the heads as soon as I see them turning to seed and thus avoid a completely full yard of dandelions. However, just once, once! I’d like to see the transformation of a golden head of petals into white fuzz.

    I planted a section of bluebonnets in my front garden. They are happy. I suppose, as fast as they spread across Texas pastures, some might consider them weeds. I’m always delighted to see their short-lived glory.

    Your shots are lovely. I don’t think I knew the passion flower grew in Texas. I know it from Hawaii where it turns into a glorious sweet fruit, but I wonder if it’s the same genus. It looks the same.

    Nice to see a post again. You put such a lot of interesting information into each one. J.

    1. Janet, I could give you the same advice my dad gave me when he caught me blowing dandelion seeds all over our yard. “Go stand by the fence, and blow them into Mr. O’Rourke’s yard. That way he’ll have some, too.” That dad of mine — always wanting to share.

      I checked, and found the Passiflora genus has more than four hundred species. And yes, ours are related to the ones in Hawaii. I don’t know anyone who’s eaten the fruit of ours, but apparently it’s quite edible when ripe. I never saw any of the ripe, yellow fruits at the farm, but it’s possible people were picking those, too.

      Lucky you, to have some bluebonnets. A Houston friend has been trying to get them to settle into her yard for years, but they just won’t. We both suspect that it’s too shady and wet around her place, but she keeps trying. I might give her a wildflower book for Christmas, with some better species bookmarked.

      I do try to keep posts varied and interesting. One of the first things I figured out is that I shouldn’t try writing about a subject that bored me to tears. If I couldn’t whomp up any interest, how could I expect a reader to be interested?


        1. It sounds wonderful, but the truth is, the passion fruit in the photo above is the only one I’ve ever seen. I know people plant there, and there probably are large stands of them around somewhere,but the hardest part of passion fruit butter for me would be finding the fruit!

  6. Living in a dry rain forest, we have about six months with only a few drizzles. most species defoliate and go dormant, then burst into life after the first few rains. There are a few with big hearts that smile throughout the dry season, and I try to cultivate as many of these weeds as possible! I give most plants in the yard a ‘sink or swim’ option – there’s not much time for coddling.

    This past weekend I spotted a volunteer passionflower – a very tiny petite one that has pink blossoms (i think- it’s not in flower right now).. I pondered pulling it and thought, ‘no.. you deserve your place in this garden..’ then I back flashed to my teenage years when I rode my horse back in the fields and came upon a marshy area draped with lots of passionflowers in bloom. I was in heaven and looked forward to learning what galaxy it came from! ‘may pop’ our farmer neighbor stated. ‘When the fruits are ripe, you stomp on them and they pop..’ I was delighted – may pops!

    when i see the yellow orbs of passionflower here in ecuador, I often wonder what people would think if I suddenly slammed my food on one and popped it! will let you know if/when I do this!

    thanks for a lovely sunday read.


    1. I remembered the word “maypop” from my reading, Z. I thought, “How funny that I’ve never heard or read the word” — and now here you are, telling me all about it.

      I went back to my Tveten book, and found this: “The name ‘maypop,’ according to Durant, is the Anglicization of the Indian “maracock,” a name that made its way from the Tupi Indians of South America [Brazil] up through the Arawaks and Caribs to North American tribes. In the original Tupi it was “maraca-cui-iba,” or “rattle fruit,” because the seeds rattled in the gourdlike fruits after drying.” How about that?

      We didn’t have maypops in Iowa, but we had wonderful fungi called puffballs. The wiki says, “The fungi are called ‘puffballs’ because clouds of brown dust-like spores are emitted when the mature fruiting body bursts, or in response to impacts such as those of falling raindrops.” They forgot to add the stomps of enthusiastic children to the list.

      Your sink-or-swim option reminds me again of a friend who begins each new gardening season by purchasing one of everything. She puts the pots in the backyard, hoses them down once a week, and then buys more of whatever thrives. Her reasoning? She knows herself well enough to know she isn’t going to fuss, so she should only buy plants that can live with her more casual approach to things!


  7. I always thought weeds are just wildflowers growing in a place you don’t want them. And ‘weeds’ that grow in our back and front yards attract the finches who take great delight in trying to perch on the slender stalk to eat the seed heads.

    1. I think that’s a fine definition, Ruth. I think, too, that many people equate weedy with unkempt. Vacant lots are “weedy” because no one is caring for them. Even if they’re filled with native wildflowers, they look bad to people, and get the weedy label.

      I’ve been watching newly-arrived finches on our crepe myrtles. The little pods are filled with seed, of course, and they’re perfectly designed for the finches to get to them. I need to check our nearest vacant lot and see what’s going on down there. It’s full of sunflowers, among other things, and probably is attractng quite a crowd.

        1. They sure don’t. I drove by the vacant lot on my way home for lunch, and lo! It’s been mowed within an inch of its life. There’s not a single standing stalk of anything. Can you hear me grumbling?

  8. I’m a fan of the dandelion, too. So many garlands and crowns and “wine” and whathaveyous were made with the stuff that I came to love them easily. You’re right about adult animosity, though: perhaps it says more about our desire to control than simply wanting an all-green yard?

    In any case, Linda, I’m always amazed at where your writing ideas come from, and even though my comments have been few and far between recently, know I am a steady reader, and take delight whenever your words appear on my screen.

    Snow storm coming tonight! Hope you’re warm and dry and Novembering nicely.

    1. Somehow, I’m sure Elliott’s already been introduced to the joys of dandelions. And while we’re listing their virtues, we mustn’t forget their importance as squirrel candy. Deny a squirrel his dandelion, and this is what you get.

      I know it’s in vogue now to criticize “lawn culture,” and to point out all the faults of a beautiful, lush lawn. Still, I have some sympathy for those suburbanites of the 1950s. I do think they were interested in control, but think what they’d just come out of: the Great Depression, WWII, Auschwitz and the bombing of Dresden. Given what my parents and their generation went through, I understand a little more that smile of satisfaction that often played across their faces as their surveyed their bit of land.

      Today, I’m all in favor of xeriscaping and native plantings that require less water, less attention, and fewer chemicals. Still, I understand the lawns. Besides, I remember running barefoot in bluegrass — there’s nothing better!

      It’s nice to know you’re “out there,” Emily. From what I’ve heard, you’re the one who needs to be all tucked up. We’re still on the warm side of things, with bare feet and open windows: at least until tomorrow.


    1. Aren’t they pretty, Ida? We still have flowers blooming, though many of the wildflowers have gone or are going to seed. That’s just fine. There are great flocks of migrating birds coming in, and they’ll make good use of the food. It’s been so warm there even are fresh grasses coming up — your neighborhood bunny would love that.


  9. Someone has likely said this, but in case not, I think of weeds, in the end, as plants growing in places where they aren’t welcome. Our poor little patch of vegetable garden is constantly overrun with thistles and a green runner we haven’t yet identified that looks like dry-land seaweed. On the other hand, we’ve made several attempts to harvest wild chicory and milkweed to get them growing in our long-grass meadow and cheer at any sign of wildflowers spreading in that area.

    1. Susan, I was so intrigued by your description of dry-land seaweed, I went off to see if I could find it. I didn’t, but that’s because I got side-tracked by an article that introduced me to a new term: noxious weeds.

      The entire paragraph’s worth quoting, because it lays it out so clearly:

      “The term “weed” means different things to different people. In the broadest sense, it is any plant growing where it is not wanted. [Exactly your point!]

      “Weeds can be native or non-native, invasive or non invasive, and noxious or not noxious. Legally, a noxious weed is any plant designated by a Federal, State or county government as injurious to public health, agriculture, recreation, wildlife or property. (Sheley, Petroff, and Borman,1999)

      “A noxious weed is also commonly defined as a plant that grows out of place and is “competitive, persistent, and pernicious.” (James, et al, 1991).”

      By the time I finished the definition, I wasn’t sure I’d want to meet a noxious weed in a back alley. Beyond that, I wonder if a weed legally defined as noxious could sue for defamation of character?

      Anyway, the page also describes and comments on invasive weeds, and takes on the relationship of the noxious to the invasives. It’s all very intresting. As so often happens,I’ve learned a few things I wish I’d known when I wrote the post.

      All this talk about categories of weeds reminds me of an observation made by Flannery O’Connor:

      “I suppose I divide people into two classes: the Irksome and the Non-Irksome without regard to sex. Yes, and there are the Medium Irksome and the Rare Irksome.”

      I wonder if Irksome and Noxious are related?


      1. At some point I really must pick some and put up a photo to see if it can be ID’d. I did a little investigation when I wrote this post, too. One can really get lost in the weeds! Irksome sounds like a mild form of noxious, doesn’t it? I would think any invasive weed is noxious, but to the experts, I suppose there are fine points. In the south, what immediately springs to mind is kudzu.

  10. The term Norsky made me think of this fine restaurant we visited a few years ago. What a great place to eat!

    I guess we are all weeds of a sort. We’ve been transplanted into places that are not our native lands. Some thrive more than others. We compete with others for dominance and resources. Yet, we are all special in our own ways.

    I really liked the pictures. Nature has some beauties.

    1. It took a while to find them, but once I’d located the meatballs, the lefse and the sour cream raisin pie, I was ready to head right up to the Norske Nook. I noticed they had smelt on the menu, too — but no lutefisk. Smart people.

      I like your metaphor about our weediness, and the transplanting that takes place. Since I’ve moved so much in my life, it’s interesting to look back over the years and think about where I’ve thrived, and under what conditions. I guess I naturalize pretty easily — I wouldn’t mind being an invasive weed, but I’d rather not be noxious.

      I’m glad you liked the photos. They’re snapshots, not portraits, but they’re pretty fair likenesses, I think. I’m anxious to get out and about with my new camera and see if I can improve some.


    1. That’s an interesting perspective. The first thing that came to mind are the strict cautions we’re given about clean boots and clothing if we’re going into one of the native prairies. It’s so easy to carry the seeds of invasive or non-native plants into that kind of environment.

      While I was commenting to Susan, up above, I found these two paragraphs that I thought were awfully good. They pack a lot of information and clarity into a small space.

  11. It was interesting and enjoyable reading for me from the beginning till to the end… the word “Weed” how took us to this amazing stories… Thank you dear Linda, I also learn so many things in your beautiful written pieces. Have a nice day, love, nia

    1. Sometimes words are like keys, Nia. You turn them this way, and that, and they open doors to wonderful things. I’m glad you liked the little stories, and the native flowers, too. Many of them don’t make good bouquets, because they bloom for only a day, but when one fades, another comes. I hope your week is filled with such beauty.


  12. “A few years ago, I wouldn’t have bothered. I used to think anything you couldn’t harvest was a weed. Finally, I figured out these so-called weeds are pretty nice, too.”

    We need more of that kind of thinking. Humans can be so narrow-minded at times. If something is of no use to you, then it must be removed, disposed of, got rid of. So many people think of milkweed as just a pesty sort of thing to be eradicated from the yard, not realizing the ecological significance of their lack of knowledge…..not to mention their olfactory loss.

    Of course, we do remove plants that compete with our garden plants for nutrients and sunlight, but we leave some too. Purslane has a nice cucumbery flavor when added to a salad. There is a hugely prolific shrub in our neighborhood…Russian Olive or Silverberry (Elaeagnus angustifolia,)…that produces hundreds and sometimes thousands of little red berries that are very attractive to birds as well as edible for humans. Quite often these shrubs are filled with migrating blackbirds building their energy reserves in the autumn. They are not favored in the ‘hood. Some say that a weed is just a plant whose value is not appreciated or known…yet. So many plants offer benefits for humans that have yet to be discovered.

    We also don’t use anything to kill weeds in our lawn. My neighbor does and I hate the look of a lawn monoculture. We have violets, bluets, plantains, cinquefoils, chickweed, hawkweeds (both yellow and orange) and a variety of mushrooms popping up in the lawn throughout the summer. Why would we wish to kill them?
    That is a lovely collection of flowers. I enjoyed also your prose throughout the essay, But then I always do enjoy your writing…I repeat myself. :-)

    1. Russian olive is one of my favorites, Steve. Tell those boyz (and girlz) in your ‘hood to stop dissing the olive, already.

      Funny you should mention the milkweed. I noticed at work last week that our “fall floaters” have finally shown up. There are several plants whose seeds fill the air this time of year. Some of them are so small they’re not really noticed — except by people like painters and varnishers, who find them stuck all over wet surfaces.

      You’re right about our tendency to dismiss anything that doesn’t seem useful to us — and that can go well beyond weeds. (The way our society views and interacts with the elderly comes to mind.) And there’s a difference between liking something and appreciating it. “Appreciate” implies understanding in a way “like” doesn’t. I can appreciate the role of a plant in the world without liking its form, or what it does to my lawn. It may be a subtle difference (or a personal quirk), but there it is. I wonder if I could convince WordPress and that behemoth, Facebook, to provide an “appreciate” button?

      I recently learned that lesson about plants and their benefits to humans in a quite personal way. Arthritis struck my hands with a vengeance: swollen joints, excruciating pain, numbness. It was just as bad as I’d heard. To make a long story short, I remembered hearing that cherry juice relieves the inflammation of arthritis. After three days of drinking it, I was back to what passes for normal. Then, I got lazy, and the symptoms came back. More juice — all gone. It’s amazing, and a good reminder that the benefits of every sort of plant — some known and some not — are well worth our appreciation.


      1. One neighbor values them highly and she picks as many olives as possible, then mashes them all up and makes fruit leather.

        When I had my restoring bizness (see what I did there?) I worked indoors, so no floaters…except the ones in my eyes…but I did have the occasional fruit fly land in the finish and once in a while one of my dog’s fur hairs would fall off my shirt into the finish. I sometimes fantasized that in the distant future the owner of a piece I had restored would remove a hair form the finish and regenerate me from the genetic makeup of the hair to inquire about the methods of restoring in my time….only to reincarnate Cassie or Dixie to his or her surprise…this was before Murphy. Must have been the fumes.

        So you are on Facebook? I’ll have to look for you.

        Regarding arthritis and cherries….tart cherry juice offers the most benefit and for a snack try Trader Joe’s (if you have one locally) Montmorency tart dried cherries. I have them in my cereal/oatmeal every morning. I checked and they are available on Amazon. $4.99 at TJ’s…a ridiculous $19.98 on Amazon.

        1. Oh, my goodness, no. I’m not on Facebook. I signed up, like everyone else, but lasted only a couple of weeks. Now I use it as a “read-only” resource for specific purposes. Most people w/pages I’m interested in have made their important information public, so there’s no need to join.

          I read about tart juice being most effective, but several sites said either tart or dark would work fine. Since I prefer the dark, I tried it, and it does the trick. I like dried cherries, and use the tart for baking, but “they” say you have to eat 45 of them to equal the amount of antiinflammatory agent in a half-cup of juice, and that makes the juice a better bargain.

          There is a Trader Joe’s inside the Loop in Houston, but I’ve never been to it. The space it took over used to be the Alabama Bookstop, one of the best independent bookstores in Houston, sited in the old Art Deco Alabama Theater. I don’t mind that it’s a grocery store now, but I surely do miss the Bookstop.

          1. I just made our breakfasts and counted my cherries…I just shake some and don’t usually count them…22. So a half dose, but I also take Turmeric capsules and fish oil as well as a handful of blueberries from the freezer so the cumulative benefits are doing a good job. I have to stay away from fruit juices as a diabetic unfortunately. But, I do occasionally cheat a bit and slug down a bottle of Odwalla Blueberry B.

  13. All these fresh colorful flowers! Just as snow and rain and sleet are on the way here!

    A weed is any plant that is where you don’t want it to be. Other cultures eat the same “weeds” we spray to kill (such as chickweed-which is quite refreshing). We recoil in disgust at the neighbor’s crop of said weeds. My yard here is 3/4 Creeping Charlie, which would send many lawn nuts into arrest (although I just read that ancient Saxons used it for brewing beer!) . I don’t necessarily like it, but I’m not losing any money or time over it. It’s a huge yard.

    I swooned at the passionflower (what a fragrance!) and from then on forgot what your post was about.

    Oh, when I lived in NE WI the Swedes and Norwegians were always teasing one another and making “comments”. The Germans were not really in that mix and nobody liked the Belgians. I thought it was a very odd situation. But of course, humans are tribal, so with everyone being white they had to pick on something…

    1. I laughed at your remark about “with everyone being white, they had to pick on something.” That’s so true, regardless of skin color. In Liberia, the various tribes have their ways of taking shots at other tribes. I can’t find it right now, but there was a great youtube video of some taxi drivers in Monrovia listing the quirks and deficiencies of the Kpelle people with whom I lived. I guess with everyone being black, they have to find something.

      It’s so human — and often grounded in just enough truth to make it even funnier. When I was growing up, the Sven and Ole joke was a staple at the dinner table or on front porches. Yes, we were poking fun at ourselves, but it was fun, and funny. I miss those days when politcal correctness and being offended at everything in sight hadn’t yet taken over the landscape.

      Your remark about nobody liking the Belgians brought back a great Kingston Trio song from long, long ago. Well, fifty years ago. Remember “The Merry Minuet”? As we like to say down here, what goes around, comes around.

      I just checked your drizzly conditions, and saw that you’ve got maybe an inch of snow forecast. The front attached to the same system is predicted to roll through here in the early afternoon. It’s beautiful now, all pink and blue, but our turn is coming.

      Speaking of weather, look what happened a hundred years ago.


      1. I had not heard that Kingston Trio song before! Funny! But, of course, when it’s mean, it’s not funny and when it harms an entire community it’s simply wrong.

        I don’t use that term of PC because it’s an excuse for a lot of ignorant people to be racist and cruel. PC should just mean that we should try to be more respectful, but once you use the words “political” and “correct” everyone goes nuts. One example is that making fun of me being small is not funny, nor was it ever. More and more it’s just ridicule. So, PC is a non-term in my life.

        Splattering rainy sleet today. The world’s gone black and gray. Sigh.

        1. We’ve gone gray and grayer, and have splattery rain, too. A twenty degree drop in temperature since the front rolled through, and we’ve got another twenty to go. I confess I like the change.

  14. Your Swedish/Norwegian ditty reminds me of a saying I learned from my first Portuguese teacher, who was from Portugal: “De Espanha, nem bom vento nem bom casamento,” meaning “From Spain, neither a good wind nor a good marriage.” You can tell that the Portuguese resented the Spanish, especially during and after the 60 years (beginning in 1580) when Spain controlled Portugal and the Portuguese empire declined.

    1. Well, that’s rather gloomy, isn’t it? The saying reminded me of the slightly more cheerful,”It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good,” which I discovered goes back to John Heywood’s 1546 collection of proverbs.

      Finding Portuguese men-o-war on the beach (the jellyfish, not the ship) is about the only time I think about Portugal. I was amazed to find that among the groups who inhabited the Iberian peninsula were the Lusitanians. I grew up among people who still talked about the sinking of Lusitania-the-ship, but had no idea of the name’s historical roots. I suppose it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to think of the Lusitania’s fate as a result of the Germans weeding out their enemies’ fleets.

      By the way, kudos to the teacher in you. That Iberian peninsula showed up first as “penninsula.” For the first time I can remember, that double consonant looked wrong to me. And then — I remembered “penultimate.” Lesson learned, if not fully incorporated!


      1. Happy improved reckoning with double consonants to you. I’m all for the straight and narrow when it comes to spelling, but it occurs to me that a peninsula in Pennsylvania might justifiably be called a Penninsula.

        You may remember from early childhood a song that was popular across the United States, “April in Portugal,” which began: “I found my April dream in Portugal this year.” When I studied Portuguese I learned that the original version was a fado about the city of Coimbra. Even that version, though, says:

        Ainda és capital
        Do amor em Portugal.

        You’re still the capital
        Of love in Portugal.

        Most Americans never think about Portugal, but it’s a wonderful and friendly little country to visit, which I highly recommend doing.

        That was good sleuthing on the subject of an ill wind that blows no one any good. I didn’t know it goes back beyond the time of John Heywood, who I assume merely collected existing proverbs rather than creating new ones (in the manner, say, of La Rochefoucauld).

        1. I didn’t think I knew “April in Portugal,” but it was immediately familiar once I’d found it. And speaking of Coimbra, look what else I found: “Coimbra” Linda De Suza is listed on quite a few tracks with the phrase “Canto Fado” included. By the time I finished watching this wonderful video, called “Canto O Fado Portugues,” I was ready to find my passport and book a flight.

          1. The version of the second song you linked to has more of a beat than the traditional version I’m used to from Amália Rodrigues:

            An advantage of this Youtube presentation is that the words appear on the screen as Amália sings.

            1. Amália Rogrigues was the most famous fado singer of her generation and probably of the 20th century. I attended a concert of hers in Newark in the late 1960s and I still have one of her records.

  15. Linda, I think maybe children have a more practical approach to whatever is growing outside — “flower,” they call it, and promptly deem it “pretty” and worth enjoying.

    We adults tend to categorize things as “good” or “bad.” Flowers fall into the “good” camp, whereas weeds fall into the “bad.” It’s sad, really, when some “weeds” are so pretty — and so tenacious!

    The part of the Midwest where I grew up was settled mostly by Germans, so I was completely unaware of the unease among natives of Scandinavian lands. America is truly a melting pot, isn’t it??

    1. Definition can make quite a difference, Debbie. Of course, some instruction in good and bad flowers has to take place: it’s not good to touch poison ivy, or to eat those cute little strawberry-look-alikes. I had to learn both of those lessons from sad experience.

      It’s also true that some of the most interesting flowers in the world are among the ugliest and least appealing. There was a corpse flower at the Museum of Natural Science here that looked weird and smelled terrible, but thousands of people visited it, and watched its webcam. It even had a Twitter account. It’s name was Lois, and you can see its Flickr gallery here.

      Even having grown up with Swedish grandparents, there was much I didn’t know. It wasn’t until I started digging in genealogical records that I found the ship’s manifest for my grandparent, or discovered the town in Sweden they departed from had burned to the ground twice. And it wasn’t until I started researching this post that I began to get a sense of the length and breadth of the wars that took place in Scandinavia. No wonder we have such a hard time understanding each other – or ourselves!


  16. Linda, quite serendipitously I am reading some of Aldo Leopold. He wrote an essay called “What is a Weed” in which he decries the practice of agricultural colleges to “call every plant a weed which cannot be fed to livestock or people.” Why label something “useless” just because it has no economic value or interferes with making money from farming? You mention beauty, but there are also the benefits of weeds as food for wildlife and their nitrogen-fixing functions, bringing health to soil. Leopold reminds us that nothing is inherently a pest, and everything has the potential to become a pest.

    1. “Sand County Almanac” was one of the books recommended to me some time ago, Rosemary. It’s on the list, along with so many others, but your comment just gave it a bump.

      I laughed at his comment about pests. You may remember, as do I, how commonly the expression, “Don’t be a pest,” was directed toward us as children. We may not have been inherently pesty, but we surely had the potential.

      You’re certainly right about the value of plants as food for wildlife, and I think that’s becoming far more widely understood. The planting of native species for butterfly gardens, for example, is taking place in many places where commercial plantings would have been used in the past. Even fungi serve their purpose. Did you know that squirrels will collect and dry them, and then store them in “pantries” for the winter? Nuts are great, but a little variety is nice when the snow is three feet up the trunk and foraging doesn’t sound so good.

  17. Another illustration of the conflicts between the various Scandinavians is the time the Danes came to Stockholm to engineer a peace talk. After setting a time and the plaza as the place, the Danes arrived early and chopped off the heads of 100 of the poor Swedes when they arrived. One of the buildings facing the square has white “eyebrows” over each window adding up to the 100 Swedes which lost their heads that day. (It may be apocryphal, but I did see the “eyebrows”, and that was the story!)

    Lovely post. I always loved the bouquets of weeds my children and grandchildren brought me.

    1. The story’s not apocryphal, Kayti. It took me a while to find it, but it seems the English, Dutch, Germans, and Spaniards had nothing on the Danes and Swedes.The history recounted here, as “The Stockholm Bloodbath” is amazing. The article says 80-90 were killed one way or another — mostly unpleasantly. The details vary a little from the story you heard, as the events apparently unfolded over three days, but there’s also a note in the wiki that tour guides embroider a bit. Details, details.

      I loved this line from the article: “[King] Christian justified the massacre in a proclamation to the Swedish people as a measure necessary to avoid a papal interdict, but, when apologising to the Pope for the decapitation of the bishops, he rather blamed his troops for performing unauthorised acts of vengeance.” That apology to the Pope must have been awkward.

      When it comes to the giving and receiving of bouquets, it’s always seemed to me the giving and receiving are important — far moreso than what’s in the hand.


  18. I loved the poem! I, of Norwegian ancestry, am married to a Dane and so wonder if there is an equivalent Norwegian/Danish dig to prod her with. But perhaps I best leave the weed allusion to the Swedes.

    As for weeds proper, my latest challenge has been the wild violet. This too is a beautiful plant, but very invasive. It looks lovely when in bloom… Certainly the problem is that these plants are used to competition and find grass to be nothing of the sort. We aren’t allowed to use herbicides in our city, and so have a wide variety of plants, which I personally like until one decides that my lawn should be a monoculture. The wild violets do great damage to both clover (which I adore) and some kind of wild strawberry (inedible, alas) as well as the grass. On another note, some say that since the herbicide ban, the bird population has grown.

    1. Allen, it’s been fascinating to learn a bit about the history of the various peoples in Scandinavia. Even though I grew up quite aware of my Swedish heritage, it was mostly a matter of language, food and cultural traditions. I suppose part of that might have been the fact that both grandparents were first generation immigrants. They were busy looking forward, not back, and certainly had their own daily concerns to deal with.

      There were history books in their house, but they were books on American history and biographies of people like Lincoln. The conflicts that compelled their interest were contemporary, from strife in the coal mines to the machinations of the Klan, and I don’t remember much ever being said about the old country. Of course, I haven’t a clue what was being discussed when they slipped into Swedish while snapping beans on the front porch.

      I got curious about your violets. We had such a hard time getting them to grow in Iowa, I had no idea they could become such a problem. I did a little reading about ways to get rid of them. Without herbicide, it does seem the only option available to you is a whole lot of pulling-up. Ah, well. It’s good the birds are thriving!

    1. That’s right, Sheryl. This old world does keep turning, and the seasons will follow as they should. There will be some bumps, I’m sure, and there will be times when it seems as though winter is never going to be done iwth us. But unless something truly unexpected happens, we’ll have our dandelions again.

  19. A delightful post, Linda. It calls to mind a quote by A.A.Milne, “Weeds are flowers too – once you get to know them.”

    I miss dandelions. I miss picking them and then rubbing their heads under our chins to end up with a bright yellow neck collar. How we loved to blow away the little fluffy parachutes that scatter the seeds far and wide. Yes, everything in creation has its own distinctive beauty.

    1. When you tucked those dandelions under your chins, Mary, did you look to see who “liked butter”? I can’t quite remember the details of that little ritual, but I do remember it was something we did. Somehow, everyone always “liked butter” — those dandelions were more than willing to give up their pollen as proof.

      The Milne quotation is so true. First impressions aren’t always enough. A little added knowledge can help to focus the vision more clearly.

  20. Linda,
    One man’s junk and all that. When we were first married, I remember telling my husband that I wanted to plant a morning glory on a trellis. In surprise, he asked why I would want to plant a weed. Years later, I took up daily walking, and I walked past a house that had a trellis that was covered with them. I got to see them every morning. Beautiful! When I was a kid, looking at my aunts yard that boasted a nice crop of buttercups, I exclaimed over how pretty they were. In disgust, she said, “Weeds.”
    Each to his own.

    1. In that last photo, Bella Rum, the out-of-focus yellow bits are Carolina buttercups. I didn’t know what they were until this year, but you’re right that a whole lawn covered with them can be beautiful. I grew up expecting wildflowers to be — well, noticeable. But so many I’ve learned about recently have been tiny little things that barely get a notice.

      Georgia O’Keeffe thought morning glories were swell. I still love what she said about her flowers, after getting some criticism about them from “the men”: “I made you take time to look at what I saw, and when you took time to really notice my flower you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower – and I don’t.”

      So there!

  21. Brilliant! I’ll go straight to the wildflowers, which I would probably never call weeds. They draw me in, too. I’ve photographed them and marked them in my no-longer-in-print Wildflowers of La. book by date and location. I’ve found passion vines and read the explanation of how the flower represents the Holy Trinity. The fruits are locally known as “may pops”.

    On my land, I also enjoy fleabane, spiderwort, morning glories, and have even come across purple leatherflower but don’t recall where at the moment. Your back story is a great lead-in, but my favorite part of this post is your observation of the ground cherry and being drawn back to look for more flowers at the picking farm. And because of our personal connection, I knew you had been there, and now I feel like I was somehow part of this creation. Is that odd? How is it that I feel so connected to you when we communicate only occasionally?

    So, I loved this post and the flower photos. Simply, I love wildflowers and would never call them weeds — and no I didn’t miss the point of the essay! I just love wildflowers! Did I mention how much I love wildflowers?

    1. When I think about your wildflowers, I think about the grasses and sedges, too — as well as the spider lilies, wild iris, and all of the varieties we saw that day when we stopped by the camp in the swamp. I need to get out those photos and see if there are some species there that I’ve learned to identify.

      I’d never heard the term may-pop, and now Zeebra says it’s called that in Mississippi, and you know the name from Louisiana. Every time I read it, I smile and think, “It may pop, or it may not. You never know.”

      That’s a really interesting question you raise about how online/personal connections develop. Clearly, part of it’s mutual interests, and part is shared real-world experience. But visiting back and forth on the blogs plays a role, too. It’s almost like our childhood experiences of having a pen-pal. I’m not sure — but it’s worth thinking about.

      One thing I know is that, as far as the creative process goes, everything gets tossed in the pot and stirred around. This particular blog entry’s been perking along for quite some time. Two years, or maybe even three. Everything from dewberry picking (cobblers!) to prairie walks, to what I’ve learned from other bloggers played into it, though there’s sometimes no way to pick out how and where.

      It surely is fun, though. And I’m with you – a pot of hothouse geraniums are nice, but they’ll never rival Mother Nature’s surprises.

  22. My father was an Actuary by day, and at weekends a botanist. I grew up out walking with him. Hill walking sometimes and then on other occasions he would be with his early SLR camera (the make of which was ‘Miranda’, whoever thought of that name for a camera?!) He would spend long periods of time on his hands and knees identifying and photographing wild flowers.

    It’s fair to say that some very attractive ‘weeds’ over the years have migrated into gardens, and garden flowers have migrated into the wild and are termed ‘Garden Escapes’. A fanciful name for a civilized flower that has fled into the wilderness. There are many beautiful wild flowers that put garden ones to shame, and I delight in the beauty of the flowers of Switzerland. Maybe I should post an image or two on my post sometime.

    1. Andy, your mention of the name of your father’s early camera amused me no end. I can’t erase my fancicul mental image of his “Camera Miranda” adorned with fruit. Perhaps the developer was a fan of the other, more famous Miranda.

      I’ve not heard the term “garden escapes,” but it’s appealing: especially that bit about a “civilized flower that has fled into the wilderness.” “Bloom where you are planted” is meant to be a bit of encouraging advice for those who need to overcome difficult circumstances, but the saying also could be considered an appeal on behalf of the status quo. Perhaps we need to hear more about the uppity flowers of the world. The second “weed’ I showed up above, the lawnflower, is native to Mexico, but it hit the road and worked its way north. Amazing, really.

      I’d love to see some of the Swiss flowers. When I lived in Salt Lake City and hiked into the alpine meadows high in the canyons, the assortment of flowers was astonishing.

      1. The title ‘Miranda’ was even odder as I had a cousin called Miranda! ‘Bloom where you are planted’ is actually a very apt phrase.My father researched how plants spread via the rail network. Investigations especially of Rail sidings, where goods wagons were ‘parked’, showed that plants were found there not commonly native to that part of the country. The conclusion being that seeds were spread via the movement of materials – soil, debris etc. One of the commonest plants to be found alongside the rail network in the London area is a shrub called Buddleia – all of it the result of seed dispersal via rail wagons.

        1. Here’s just a glimpse of a piece of native prairie down the road from me. The same effect can be seen there, along a little lane that’s used for bringing in equipment for occasional mowing. At the edges of the lane, Johnson grass and other invasives can be seen. The road functions exactly like the rail lines.

  23. I didn’t realize my ancestors came from the Scandinavian countries until I had my DNA done, Linda. I am assuming we were probably of Viking stock since we ended up in Scotland and Ireland. That makes us weeds of a sort. So I empathize with weeds, or most weeds, anyway. I have been waging an ongoing war with star thistle on our property. It is both tough and nasty. Gradually I am winning. But I suspect that left on its own, it would quickly regain the territory it has so grudgingly given up. –Curt

    1. Clearly, you’ve spent plenty of years channeling your inner Viking, Curt. I had to laugh — we used to talk about having our hair done. Now? We get our DNA done. It’s amazing, and wonderful, but I still have a certain hesitancy about the far fringes of the work being done. GMOs come to mind, and whatever’s going on at Google’s new airfield. Microchipping my kitty cat? Good. Microchipping my finger for purposes of making payments? Not a chance.

      Thistles are tough, and miserable to deal with. Maybe you need a goat. From what I’ve read, they enjoy star thistle, along with a whole lot of other things that need getting rid of.

      I can’t believe I’ve gotten all the way through this post and comments and it’s only now I’ve thought about “weeds” and “weeding” as metaphors. I wonder if it’s not so common any more? Expressions like “I need to weed out the clothes in that closet” may be rooted in a time when weeding meant manual labor, not the application of a chemical.


  24. Bravo, Linda. This beautifully photographed post illustrates something I’ve believed in for ever so long — that some of the prettiest weeds are flowers and they get a pretty bad rap for growing in the “wrong places.” I’ve always thought of these little renegades as special gifts placed in our path to help us stop and for a brief moment contemplate the beauty that can pop up anywhere — through an unseemly sidewalk crack, a lonely beach, the front yard! I love it that my neighbor (who has an abundant garden) also seems to have a tremendous amount of natural “seed” migration and now and then something simply beautiful and unplanned will emerge into my world.

    And, I must say, your rhyme is divine. (Not really a rhyme — Stephen Sondheim wouldn’t allow it — but as close as I can come!)

    1. I’m glad you like the little rhyme, Jeanie.It never would have occurred to me to wonder what Stephen Sondheim would allow, although, if I were going to turn my blog into a musical, it might be a different matter. (Isn’t that a thought? I wonder if anyone ever has considered doing that with their blog.? Doesn’t “Marmalade Gypsy ~ The Musical” have a nice ring to it?)

      When I was reading about the passion flower in one of my books, the authors made exactly the point you do: that they can pop up anywhere, even in the cracks of city sidewalks. And the importance of “context” can be seen with the beach morning glory. Planted in the wrong place, it can strangle everything in sight, but on the beaches, it’s an important part of dune restoration. Beautiful and useful — what could be better?

  25. Plants are not the only invasive species. A particularly invasive species moved in and took over starting about 1492. When we move to a new place, we tend to want to take as much of our old place with us as we can. Unfortunately for the native species, what we brought with us included bacteria, viruses, and mosquitoes, as well as plants and animals. There are places where feral pigs are worse than kudzu. I’ve had my rounds with the “tree of heaven” an invasive plant that was brought in as an “ornamental” from China.

    You’d think we’d wise up. Native plant species are adapted to the climate. They require almost no care. All the money we spend on fertilizers and weed killer, all the effort we expend to get lawns and gardens the way we (or the status quo) think they ought to be. We could have beautiful flower-filled grounds for nothing. We spend an awful amount of time, energy and money keeping the wild at bay. I wonder why that is?

    1. Point taken re: the viruses and bacteria, although it might be worth considering why, in our current situation, more care is taken to prevent the importation of harmful plant and animal species than the importation of disease. But yes — the Cuban lizards that are running off my native anoles and the Chinese tallow are right there with your kudzu, not to mention the Zebra mussel that’s working its way south and complicating life for watermen of all sorts.

      As for your question about why we do things as we do — there have been entire books written about that, with answers better than anything I could come up with. I did notice yesterday that the gardening crews have been working the neighborhood. All of the summer flowers have been ripped out, and the pansies are back. In about three months, they’ll do the same, and we’ll get petunias or something.

      I suspect there’s big money in that kind of gardening, or at least good enough money that it can support dozens of businesses in just my area. For every person who’d love to see native plantings and xeriscaping, I suspect there are multitudes more, with big advertising budgets, bent on persuading people that those Home Depot or Lowe’s or grocery store plants are just what they need.

      1. It started with the development of agriculture. It was not until the idea of agriculture occurred to us that we even got the idea of exerting control over what grew on the landscape. Until then, we had territory and whatever plants grew there that we could utilize either for ourselves or as grazing for our herds, but not any idea that we could influence what grew anywhere. With the development of agriculture, we cleared out other plants to make room for the ones we wanted — it’s not that far a step from jealously guarded grain fields and vegetable gardens, to plants being placed into a landscape to fit a certain aesthetic. It was the notion that we could exert an influence on what grew where. First it was “anything that is not something we can eat is a weed and must be rooted out.” but then it escalated to “anything that is not what we want where we want it, is a weed.” For many centuries, Britain had its hedgerows, natural fences for their fields, which were little islands of native plants and animals, but that’s going now as the old medieval fields are being linked up into huge fields like there are here, and the hedgerows are being bulldozed. What’s even sadder, is that we have become a monoculture. Our food sources have become narrowed to a handful of grain species, and a handful of vegetable species, and a handful of animal species, and they’ve become huge industries. One blight, one fungus, one bacterial or viral disease (like the pig enteric disease that got imported from China recently that’s been killing off all the piglets — be prepared for bacon and ham prices to go through the roof) and our food supply is seriously impacted.

  26. As one who spends much of his time in combat with weeds, I can surely appreciate this. As a friend of mine likes to say, a weed is just a plant growing somewhere where we don’t want it.

    He also likes to point out that in the not-distant past our ancestors knew a use for nearly every plant (and tree). What we now call weeds they may have called food, flowers or medicine.

    I like the post title of course. Even though I suppose it’s lightweight by Faulkner’s hefty standards, I’m rather of fan of that book. The parts most criticized are the parts I like the best.

    1. I had “Intruders in the Dust” as a title for months and months, Bill: long before I had a post to go with it. I knew you’d pick up on it. You never disappoint!

      It didn’t occur to me until I’d written this, and spent a bit more time learning about the various flowers I’d included, that most of the ones I saw at the farm — ground cherry, morning glory, leatheflower, passion vine, and others I didn’t show — are, in fact vines. I’d not considered the fact that the environment that had been created for the tomatoes and blackberries — the horizontal trellising, the drip irrigation — might as well have been a handwritten invitation for other vines to show up. And they did.

  27. Only yesterday I read the quote on weeds; I’ve just been trying to find it but as I was ‘book-and-poetry-grazing’ at the time and put the books tidily away afterwards, I cannot do so. And I so wanted to show off!!

    We are all weeds to someone; it’s only when we look closely do we see the beauty in each other. Looking closely is not fashionable in our hasty world, so we often call each other by rude names and give each other equally unkind histories.

    I do admit, however, that as a keen gardener not all weeds find favour with me. My efforts at eradicating some amount to mass murder!

    I have also only very recently downloaded a whole lot of songs by Zarah Leander. She was, as you may know, very popular in Germany at just the wrong time in history, but as she was a firm favourite of my parents’ generation and I heard her in the 50s and maybe even later, I revisited her music. I enjoy listening to her, but that may be due to the fact that nostalgia is very high on my list of preoccupations at the moment. She was a formidable and courageous Swede by all accounts, blessed with an extraordinary voice.

    As for Swedes, Norwegians and Danes, I met them in groups during my working life and I found they all got on with each other splendidly. At international conferences they brought just one interpreter with them, who managed to make all of them understand the proceedings. Never a cross word was uttered.

    1. How I laughed at your phrase, “book and poetry grazing.” It’s true, isn’t it? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “Oh, I’m not going to bookmark that, or write it down. I’ll never need that.” And then a day later, I’m trying to remember where i saw the danged thing.

      I must admit that, until the past year or so, I wasn’t at all aware of the homicidal tendencies exhibited by some plants: especially vines. I had no idea they could become thigh-thick and as high as a tree. Too many trellises and mad pruners in my childhood, I suppose. They kept the truth from me.

      All of this is to say, your point about an occasional weeding being a good thing also is true. It’s true for our gardens, and true in other ways: weeding out possessions, weeding out unhappy and negative thoughts, weeding out those whose presence is destructive to our lives. It can take effort, and lead to some thorny situations, but such is life.

      Can you believe I’ve never heard of Leander? She began her career in Sweden about twenty-five years after my grandparents came to this country, so they may not have heard of her. Of course, my grandmother, particularly, was wildly enthusiastic about being American, and she was as likely to listen to Lawrence Welk as Zarah Leander.

      When I think about the “conflicts” among the Scandinavians here, especially around 1900, when so many were immigrating, I think of it as more fussy than truly contentious. I see them as birds settling in on a wire, all scootching this way and that, to ensure that each has the right amount of space. It’s funny to watch the birds, at least in part because the parallels to human behavior are so clear.


  28. Well, now we’re covered with a blanket of snow. No chance of anything growing other than evergreens. Even the birds seem to have hidden away, except I saw a few fleets of Canada Geese flying away today. Your detailed tracking of ‘weeds’ makes me envious. Even your ‘weeds’ are more beautiful than our intended summer flowers. Did I tell you when I first arrived in Canada as a teenager from HK, I thought how nice that people planted those yellow flowers on their lawn to contrast the green, until I was laughed at and told that they were weeds, called dandelions. Had a lot to learn you know, as a newcomer. ;)

    1. Really and truly, Arti ~ I’ve been looking at some lists of your flowers, and I think you might be surprised by what beautiful delights you have in your area.

      This list doesn’t have such wonderful photos, but I do think some of the berries you’ve found might be on the page. And this site has much more than flowers. Look under “scenery” and you’ll find butterflies, birds, waterfowl — all sorts of things. It might be a nice complement to your birding books.

      Something else I’ve had to learn is that many flowers were escaping my notice because they’re so small. In real life, that pretty little lawnflower up at the top is only as big as one petal in the photo I’ve showed.

      As for those dandelions, it’s true that they can get out of control pretty quickly. But I’m with you — I think they’re lovely, and they could live in my yard any day.


      1. How wonderful to be pointed back to my own ‘backyard’ and appreciate all that Nature has for me here. Yes, I live right at the border of Fish Creek Provincial Park. But you know, all these flowers and plants are what we have on a summer day. I’ll have to wait till next year to see them. Now it’s cold and bare except the evergreens of course.

  29. Wonderful, I love this! I’ve always been fascinated by who deems weeds their place, and why. Sometimes it really does make very little sense… There’s a *beautiful* (well, there are many actually) ground-cover, that blooms in the prettiest colors. They’re native — so in my humble opinion, a must-grow! But many have been deemed weeds. I’m convinced these lovelies have been labeled such by those in the market to make money off of intrusive, non-natives (read: developers and landscapers). It’s a true shame, but at least there’s growing awareness of the need to plant NATIVE. (And face it, it’s just easier!)

    p.s. I always kept the dandelions, too. Nothing’s really a weed. Emerson: “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” :)

    1. Oh, it’s not been quite as long as I feared since you posted. It’s been one of those weeks at work. I’m so glad to have the weekend to catach up a bit!

      I think you’re exactly right about the marketers and their desire to promote certain “fashions” in flowers. It certainly is true that some non-natives, like pansies and cyclamen, can provide color here during the cold months, while so many go dormant. But as I watch the professional crews digging, ripping up, replanting — much of it makes no sense to me.

      I am starting to see many more native grasses being planted. One thing that really reshaped perspectives here was the terrible drought of 2010-2011. Many people who’d never given a though to native plants began reconsidering as they pondered their water bills — or the dead plants they weren’t allowed to water.

      I’m basically with you on the weeds. No one wants Johnson grass invading native prairie, or thistles in the front yard. But for the most part, even things like dandelions and clover aren’t going to cause anyone any trouble. After all, people have to be taught what’s a weed and what isn’t!

      Happy Thanksgiving, by the way. I hope it’s a lovely one!

  30. I only wish my weeds were of the flowering kind. On a morning walk recently I passed many yards with a ground cover of delicate purple flowers invading perfect lawns. Mine, however, has been overrun with grasses which exude a sticky secretion that clings to shoes. I’d rather the little flowers.

    1. Are these the little purple flowers, Judy? I have a friend who has a yard full of them, and a couple of years ago we finally identified them as the asters. They can get quite tall, but if they’re mowed regularly, they stay fairly short. I’d take them over sticky grasses, too. Maybe you should collect some seeds and see if you can encourage them!

      1. I am not sure they are the same as those look bigger to me. But, they may still be asters as they are starlike. Next meander around the neighborhood I’ll take a picture or two to show you and identify!! Thanks for showing me the pretty link.

    1. And you can poke fun at this Swede any time you want, Bente! Despite the jokes and jibes when I was growing up, it was all good-natured fun. Sometimes it got a little “edgy,” but we were as likely to tell the jokes on ourselves as we were to hear them from our neighbors.

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