Some Weed Problems

Some Weed Problems Introduction

Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) by Walter J. Pilsak

We know and love weeds for their ability to spread to and cover bare soil exposed by fires and floods, but we hate them when their natural abilities spread them into crops and gardens. In nature, weeds are like band-aids on skinned knees, protecting soil from erosion by wind and water. This is good, and should be good enough for us to be selective (not stereotyping) in our attitude toward weeds. But it isn’t. The reason for our persistent hatred is that weeds can compete with and replace crop and garden plants, they can replace native vegetation, and they can block vision and even travel. And, as you will see in the first article below, some weeds have toxic chemicals for defense and aggression and can inflict serious injury to grazers or innocent passersby.

Giant Hogweed (by Appaloosa)

People used to use the techniques of organic gardening to prevent and eradicate weeds. However, in the middle of the last century, science gave us herbicides, chemicals that interfere with weed growth and reproduction. What a pleasure to wave our spray wand over weeds and watch them shrivel and die. For decades, agricultural scientists have improved herbicides. They have even paired them with genetically modified crop plants that aren’t hurt by the magic spray that kills invading weeds.

Herbicides disrupt nature and cause cancer in humans. The chemical industry claims that reduced cost of food production justifies herbicide use. However, herbicides are growing stronger and farmers are applying them more heavily. This increases the harm to nature and human health.

Weeds are not defenseless against herbicides. Most of them produce seeds for the next generation in a single year, and this allows natural selection of herbicide-resistant plants within a few years. As described in the second article below, weed resistance is exceeding the power of the herbicides. As the gap between herbicide efficacy and weed resistance grows, farmers will return to the old organic gardening techniques. Though this will be less harmful to nature and people, it will increase the cost of farmed produce. Consequently, we may have to reduce meat production, a major consumer of farm crops, and, eventually, we will have to reduce human population size.

The articles below include recent discussions of weed problems.

Some Weed Problems References

Click for more on weeds.

15 thoughts on “Some Weed Problems

  1. I look forward to reading your whole article.  But I couldn’t agree more that “weeds protect soil form erosion…”  The 1 acre lot behind us was completely stripped of vegetation in preparation for building – but then left abandoned.  The next spring the properties below it were flooded when there were large precipitation events and the snow melted.  More later – Caroline

    From: GarryRogers Nature Conservation To: Sent: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 12:12 PM Subject: [New post] Some Weed Problems #yiv7345089589 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv7345089589 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv7345089589 a.yiv7345089589primaryactionlink:link, #yiv7345089589 a.yiv7345089589primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv7345089589 a.yiv7345089589primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv7345089589 a.yiv7345089589primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv7345089589 | GarryRogers posted: “Some Weed Problems IntroductionWe know and love (or, more commonly, hate) weeds for their ability to spread to and cover bare soil exposed by fires, floods, plows, and garden spades. Like band-aids on skinned knees, weeds protect soil from erosion by ” | |

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  2. We should rethink our adversarial relationship with nature. Maybe we should stop using the word “weed” and instead use the term “wild vegetation.” Some weeds make excellent garden plants such as ferns. One started growing in my patio planter last year and soon blossomed into a luscious ornamental which my neighbors loved. Other weeds are edible such as dandelion. I harvest them regularly in the undeveloped areas near home. Sauteed with olive oil and garlic, they make a great accompaniment to hardier fare.

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  3. Mara, here’s an answer that comes from my limited reading and management experience. Some weeds are extremely difficult and expensive to eradicate using safer means. The critical need for restoration sometimes seems more important than the harm herbicides will cause. Another example of ends justifying means. Attempts to restore native vegetation, biodiversity, and soil protection often fail because the weeds keep coming back after we mow or pull them. However, I stopped all herbicide uses 11 years ago and my general impression is that the tendency to use herbicides for conservation purposes is fading along with the belief that we have any chance to restore nature with the levels of public support and funding that conservation currently receives. For most people, weed invasions, soil erosion, and biodiversity decline are distant threats too indirect to influence concerns or votes. Thus, most leaders worldwide seem to prefer inexpensive short-term gains to expensive long-term solutions.

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  4. Thanks for explaining that. I appreciate your objective point of view on a touchy topic. Makes some sense I guess. Herbicides are used in a park near me (Rock Creek Park) to control invasive plants like lesser celandine and apparently without them, the weeds would take over. I guess as long as we (and our leaders) keep in mind the larger (and long term) implications of our actions (which apparently we are not)… I suppose their use in conservation pales in comparison to their use in agriculture. And I suppose that goes for turf grass management too.

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  5. Land managers are not conservationists. Most are less concerned with conservation than with immediate results. For example, the U. S. Bureau of Land Management sprays millions of gallons of herbicide on public lands.

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  6. Sadly, I can’t say I’m surprised. No wonder the pollinators are in so much trouble. Sounds like we have a serious herbicide addiction.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. So many of the worst invasive exotic weeds are too established to combat with herbicides. English ivy covers many square miles of redwood forest. Acacia dealbata, blue gum eucalyptus, pampas grass and broom have natrualized here. There really is no solution for these sorts of weeds.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Sadly, most people want ” landscaped” yards and property. Which basically means, ” it looks good”. This follows our obsession with superficiality and materialism. Keeping my property in a ” natural” state, e.g., no herbicides, pesticides, swimming pool, lawn, or ” landscaping” is a difficult task when surrounded by people whose idea of nature is one where they are in a climate, insect, plant- controlled place in which they can enjoy their barbeques and swim parties.The only other time they are actually ” outside” is when they are walking to their cars.

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  9. Sirius, we could argue for redirecting the energy spent “landscaping” into “naturalizing” our yards. We should use our big brains to do a better job than the random trial-and-error approach nature must take. Thank you for the comment.

    Liked by 2 people


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