Weeds

Huge earthmoving equipment is tearing up the landscape, eliminating all trees, sage, rabbitbrush, and wildflowers to make way for a new road. Larger rocks are piled high in one spot to be fed into a crusher. The resulting gravel will become a base of an earthen ramp beginning to take shape. It leads to a yet-to-be-built overpass that will carry traffic over the BNSF rail line. I walk this area every week as it leads to an undeveloped area good for hiking.

I feel a twinge of sorrow for the loss of plants and wildlife habitat, but on this day, I see a miracle of sorts. There is a growing fringe of green around the construction site. Some plants just do not care that the Department of Transportation would just as soon they cease growing. These particular plants actually jump at the opportunity a major disturbance provides because it creates their perfect place. Crane’s bill, with its lavender to red flowers, is happy to sprout and grow here. This species is commonly seen along roadsides and other disturbed areas.

A couple of plants are unfamiliar. I have to make some detailed mental notes and pluck a specimen with flower and seed pods to take home for identification. I pore over several books to no avail. Doing an extensive internet search, I finally have my answer. One plant is called cutleaf nightshade (Solanum triflorum), an import from Argentina. I knew it had to be in the nightshade family. After years of identifying plants, I get a sense of a species unique ‘energy.’

The other plant has characteristics of the mint family but I cannot identify it until I search for similar looking nettles and happen upon the right photo. Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) is indeed in the mint family but also not indigenous. It is native to Europe, northern Africa, and central Asia. As with many invasive species it has become “naturalized,” or so widespread in the U.S. it is recognized as a common local plant. I have not seen either the nightshade or horehound in this area before, so I suspect they were outcompeted by the indigenous flora, waiting patiently for an opportunity like this.

Both plants seem to arise out of nowhere. They take a radical change in the landscape as stimulus to grow. Nature is amazingly resilient in this regard and the symbolism is profound. I wonder about our capacity as humans to discover growth in disturbance. When we are challenged by life circumstances, what do we grow? The weeds of our habits are just waiting for an opportunity to sprout and become stronger. Imported from the continent of unliberated experiences, they take root and replace the native flora. They are difficult to overcome when the healthy natural environment is destroyed.

Weeds have their place and some are quite beautiful. Sometimes we just give in to them because it requires too much energy and intention to replant and cultivate a healthy natural state. It takes patience and courage to revitalize our inner environment so that it sustains us. The main thing to remember is not to judge the weeds too harshly, appreciating them for what they are. After all, they traveled a long way to get here. But it is best not to let the weeds take over.