By Luke Miller
Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.
I walk though my yard. It’s the third summer of drought in a row. The grass languishes, but the weeds look utterly healthy. They care not that they are scorned. They simply grow and flourish doing what they were put on this earth to do: cover bare ground.
Nature abhors bare ground. It leads to erosion and a loss of valuable topsoil -- nature took eons to create that topsoil, and it’s not about to give up its precious commodity without a fight. Grasses, groundcovers, trees, and shrubs are all soil protectors.
Weeds, on the other hand, are nature’s last recourse. They’re called in when the soil is barren, compacted, or sun-baked -- or a mixture of all three.
Recently, while partnering with Lowe’s and Meredith Corporation in a Rebuilding Together project in Brooklyn, I saw how weeds colonized disturbed ground polluted by saltwater runoff. The little devils protected vulnerable soil until rain could flush out the salt and make conditions habitable for other plants.
Other times, weeds earn their keep by sending deep taproots into the subsoil and bringing to the surface nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable to most plants.
Do not blame the thistle that you see no beauty.
-- Jonathan Lockwood Huie
I don’t like the unkempt look of weeds any more than you do. But if we go beyond the obvious, we’ll see that they are perfectly fulfilling their mission. That is the beauty that we fail to see.
Invasive plant you say? If that’s the case, it’s because humans brought the plant into a foreign habitat to begin with. Native plants -- those growing where nature intended for them to grow -- don’t cause problems. They have evolved over millennia to be an integral part of a complicated and magnificent puzzle, not a bully running roughshod over the rest of the plant community.
In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences.
-- Robert Green Ingersoll
The same is true with insects and diseases, which in their native habitat are naturally kept in check -- either by predators or by resistance built up by plants over many centuries. Serious pests like gypsy moth and Asian longhorn beetle? Catastrophic diseases like Dutch Elm Disease and Chestnut Blight? All are the consequences of human behavior. That’s right. We reap what we sow.
Left alone, nature makes no mistakes. Earthquakes form mountain ranges. Volcanoes and lightning storms make beneficial nutrients available to plant life. And weeds move in to save the day when soil needs a friend to lean on.
So the next time you spy a weed living the life of Riley while the rest of the plants in your garden are sagging, be thankful. It’s part of nature’s grand plan to save the planet, one particle of soil at a time.
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