When you make a word association with “weed,” you are likely to have predominantly negative connotations: allergies, intrusive, the stupid plants that ruin my garden. But it turns out that there is no real scientific definition of what constitutes a weed.
“There is no objective botanical description of weeds. It’s a cultural description, ”famed nature writer Richard Mabey told hosts Nicola Twilley and Cynthia Graber on this week’s show. Gastropod, which concerns much-maligned weeds and their effects on (and as) food sources.
Mabey, who wrote a book called Weeds: in defense of nature’s most unloved plants, continues: “Basically, a weed is a plant that someone does not like. All kinds of definitions have been prescribed for weeds. One of them is that it is a plant that no one has found a use for yet. The most useful is simply a plant in the wrong place, which is an objective and emotionless description.
Weeds, however, can endure our hatred, just as they can endure just about anything (which is why the agricultural industry uses such strong herbicides to keep them away). And there are indeed weed lovers out there. Take, for example, William James Beal, a professor and botanist who pioneered a seed experiment at Michigan State University almost 150 years ago, it continues today.
In 1879, Beal filled 20 seed bottles with nearly two dozen weeds, including clover, ragweed, and common mallow, and buried them in a secret location on the Michigan State campus. , marking them on a card to which only he had access in order to protect them from tampering. He dug up a bottle every five years and tried to germinate the seeds in the bottle, to determine how long these weeds could stay dormant in the soil before germinating to bother a new generation of farmers. When Beal was ready to retire, he passed the map and information on to a new keeper – and that tradition has continued until now. (The time between bottle digging events was later extended to every ten years, and now every twenty.) Today, four botanists in the state of Michigan have access to the map.
Last spring, on a cold Michigan morning before sunrise, Dr Marjorie Weber, Dr Frank Telewski and a few other selected members of the botany lab banded together to unearth one of the bottles, 142 years after its first interment. . Listen to Gastropod now to find out: did any of the seeds germinate? And, along the way, you might find yourself with a new respect for these hated plants.