Is It A Weed, Wild Plant or Vegetable? Everything We Call A Veg Started As A Wild Plant. Today It’s Cucamelons And Shiso Leaf, In The 1800s It Was Alexanders And Sea Kale. All Started As Wild Plants Of Some Sort.
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Is it a weed, wild plant or vegetable? It’s a question I frequently get asked. The reality is it can be all of them at once on some occasions.
Alexanders, Smyrnium olusatrum, is now often foraged.
Take for example the plant Alexanders. It grows wild near the coast where I live. So it’s a wild plant. In the 1800s people grew it in cottage gardens as a veg. Some people still do today. So it’s a vegetable.
Sometimes it grows in the gardens local to me without being planted or wanted. In which case it is a weed.
So Alexanders manages to be all three at once.
What About Potatoes?
Veg, weed or wild plant?
Well chitted potatoes lead to wonderful potato flowers earlier than would have happened …. but just because you can doesn’t mean you should!
Surely it’s a veg. But is that a too obvious answer?
When I farmed we sometimes grew wheat after a potato crop. And if a potato grew amongst the wheat it was a weed and could cause all sorts of problems at harvest time.
So What Is a Weed?
The simple definition of a weed is a plant growing in the wrong place. So a potato growing in a cornfield is a weed.
Common field speedwell, Birdeye speedwell, Veronica persica, an ephemeral weed of many gardens
But of course the wrong place depends on our point of view. I have daffodils growing in my lawn. They are meant to be there. But what if they grew in a croquet lawn or cricket pitch. They’d be a weed because they are in the wrong place.
Is It A Weed Or A Flower?
This confuses some people. Especially those that think flowers are only grown in flower beds and gardens. But of course weeds are often flowering plants so it could be both.
Is It A Weed Or A Plant?
When people ask if it is a weed or a plant what I think they are asking is whether it is a useful plant in the right place or a plant in the wrong place. All weed are plants, but not all plants are weeds.
Is It A Weed Or A Wild Flower?
That sounds a bit like one of the previous questions. But what I think people mean by it is should they leave it in the garden to flower or is it a non flowering plant. Some people accept “weeds” if they flower but not if they don’t flower.
Some weeds are worse than others. Species such as Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed are just two such destructive species that are gaining a toehold in the UK.
Both are quite beautiful in their own way. Japanese Knotweed has a beautiful flower and attracts bees. But it undermines buildings and, if found on a building site, construction work has to stop whilst it is eradicated. Just a tiny piece if Japanese Knotweed is all that is needed for it to grow in a new site, so it can travel around in the mud on vehicles or even wellies!
Ditto Himalayan Balsam when it comes to flowers. Bees love them. But the plant takes over, chokes existing plants life and destroys habitats. Balsam bashing has become a pastime for environmentalists in some areas.
Are Weeds Ever Useful?
My answer might surprise you. But I think they can. Simply because they can tell us a great deal about the soil and environmental conditions the plant is growing in. And that can be useful gardening information.
Here’s a post I wrote about how to recognise weeds and how plants can tell us about the soil type and soil condition.
How To Tell Useful Plants From “Weeds”
The problem gardeners have when it comes to “weeds” is knowing which plants are intended and which are pretenders!
If you go into a cornfield a few weeks after it has been drilled and the corals are emerging you’ll find a lot of plant life. It’s quite easy to see which is the crop and which weeds, even though they are really small. The cereal crop will be in the rows it was drilled in, and have a single leaf (it’s a monocot or monocotyledon to give it its full name). The other plants will be spread around both in those rows and elsewhere. Most will have two small leaves, (they are dicots, dicotyledons).
And we can use the same technique in the garden. Sow seed or plant plants in rows. Everything that comes up elsewhere is then an unwanted plant. So pull these out, out hoe them out.
If you see a plant you are not sure about check it against the ones tha should be there. If it is different it’s probably not needed. It’s a weed. But if in doubt, leave it a bit longer and see how it develops.
When I farmed I could recognise all the usual weeds when they were very small, before the first true leaves emerged. I’m now out of practice and find it easier to recognise plants when they have 3-4 leaves. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything to begin with. It takes practice.
One trick I recommend is to reduce the number of weeds that grow, If they don’t grow they don’t need dealing with. No Dig is the best way I know to keep weeds down. It works very well and reduces my workload in the garden. It’s low cost as well.
Weed ID Charts
I have a weed ID chart available for download if you want one. Just click the link and go and download it.
These even a weed ID chart for kids. It keeps them interested for hours.
How to Control Weeds
I’ve written several posts on how to control weeds and list some below. Why not check them out?
Can Weeds Be Eaten?
In many cases, yes. But make sure you have identified then correctly s some are poisonous.
Here’s a link to edible weeds.
Tag: Is It A Weed, Wild Plant or Vegetable?
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Tag: Is It A Weed, Wild Plant or Vegetable?
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