Field Notes

Weeds or Pioneering Plants?


Words by: James Godfrey-Faussett
— Lead Forest Maker at SUGi

There is a saying that weeds are just plants growing in the wrong place. But actually it should be - weeds are plants growing in the right place!

A better name for weeds would be pioneering plants or healing herbs, as this is essentially what they do. They are nature’s way of covering bare soil, repairing damage and raising fertility. These remarkable plants are nature’s visible symptom to a deeper underlying cause.

Treat the cause and the symptom will disappear. Each ‘weed’ is specific to the problem it has been sent to address. The plants will nearly always contain a high level of the minerals where the immediate area of soil is lacking - sending down deep roots to accumulate what is missing and needed.

For example dandelions appear where ground is compacted and a hard pan layer has formed. The deep dandelion root mining calcium and other minerals, bringing them to the surface where they slowly ease compaction.

Milk thistle is often taken as a liver detox supplement and in nature is used in the same way. Milk thistle appears on toxic and acidic land and often where radon gas escapes to the surface. The herb is able to flourish and if left to be, will eventually help heal the soil.

When ‘weeding’ our urban forests, we just cut the ‘weeds’ down leaving the roots in the ground to aerate and provide carbon.

The plant leaves break down releasing the accumulated minerals back into the soil. Combining this with mulching creates a fertile layering system that is great for soil health.

The simple act of observation is a key here - to notice what is growing and why. All nature’s indicators are there showing us what is lacking or even what is too abundant in some cases. Once the repair work is done ‘ weeds’ will eventually disappear as their work is done.

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