"Bad Weeds Gone Good" is not a new concept, but it is something that needs to be carefully considered. To begin with, what is a weed? There is no botanical category of plants called weeds. A weed, by most definitions, is a "plant out of place". Thus, a rose bush in a pea field is a weed. Other ways of looking at plants as weeds are:
they are untidy looking plants (weedy);
plants that have no redeeming values;
plants that complete with more desirable species;
plants once regarded as valuable (medicine, gardens) but that are now forgotten.
You may be surprised at some of the plants that have been described as weeds. To some people red alder is a weed; and yet it is one of our most important deciduous species for a wide variety of birds. I have seen red elderberry, salmonberry and thimbleberry mowed down as "weeds", and yet, these are all excellent native wildlife plant species, providing valuable food and habitat for a variety of birds. Salmonberry is one of the first nectaring flowers of Rufous Hummingbirds when they return from their Mexican wintering grounds.
Some plants are simply undervalued as wildlife plants. A good example is the common dandelion which is a favourite of the American Goldfinch. Certain of our butterflies favour thistles (e.g. the Painted Lady); caterpillars of the Purplish copper butterfly feed on dock leaves, and so forth.
Many weeds have wonderful stories to tell, reaching far back into the mists of time. Yarrow for example, honours Achilles whose soldiers are said to have used it to stauch wounds. It is a common ingredient in certain popular cough drops, along with several other 'weeds'.
There are numerous examples of "weedy" plants that were once honoured as foods and medicines, or even in poetry, but are now largely forgotten, or even hated. Himalayan Blackberry is just such a plant. Its eradication in certain places has sparked heated debate between those trying to preserve wintering bird habitat (especially sparrows) and those who want something "more natural". The whole concept of what is "natural" needs to be carefully examined. The word "natural" is commonly used, but what, given our use of the planet, does it mean?
"Bad Weeds Gone Good" does not mean letting everything go - in fact it is the opposite. It simply means a new way of thinking about plants and the creatures that use them.
Come to Al's talk for the last event of this year's Squamish Songbird Festival:
Thursday, May 27: Bad Weeds Gone Good
7:30 p.m.Howe Sound Inn
Relax! Swing in your hammock - now you've got an excuse. Weedy gardens can be good for you and the birds! Renowned local naturalist, Al Grass will demonstrate how "weeds" can actually be very beneficial for wildlife.