It’s pretty clear by now that the new millennium belongs to those who preserve, conserve and salvage. Nothing is more chic these days than carrying a designer handbag that had a past life as say, a soda bottle or a truck tire.
Eco-conscious parents everywhere are teaching their kids how to save kilowatts and catch rainwater in barrels. Kindly animal lovers from Boston to Baja are rescuing and nurturing every known breed of cat, dog and horse, and lots of other needy critters as well.
Whole organizations are devoting themselves to conserving the best pieces of our precarious little planet, one precious hectare at a time. Everyone everywhere is somehow saving something for someone.
My three salvaged cats, ancient vehicles and well-preserved husband are evidence that I have at least a start on the whole conservation thing, and anyone who’s visited my farm knows that the entire operation pretty much runs on compost and mulch that would otherwise end up in the landfill. But still, I was looking to save something unglamorous and deserving of a little public relations boost; something that would raise questions, or at least an eyebrow or two.
So here it is: I’ve made it my mission to save some of Indiana’s best weeds.
They’re not as chic as recycled handbags, or as cuddly as a rescued puppy, and it’s worth noting that the term “weed” is pretty arbitrary to begin with, defined basically as any plant that grows where it’s not wanted.
Generally, though, most plant lovers can agree that the plants we call weeds are often widespread, take over quickly, seem to compete too well in whatever niche they find themselves, and are notoriously hard to get rid of. So why, you ask, would anyone in their right mind want to save something that obnoxious?
Here’s the logic: what’s a weed one year might be a rare and valuable wildflower the next.
As do most collections, mine does have standards, though they’re admittedly as capricious as any collector’s. I will only save non-woody flowering weeds, for no other reason than I like flowers, and non-woody plants are easier to dig up. No shrubs or vines need apply. Some flowering weeds, like chicory and wild carrot (better known as Queen Anne’s lace), are so common that they remain uninvited to the club for now. I’ll re-evaluate my position if they ever go from uber-common to merely plentiful.
And despite my contrarian streak, I won’t collect anything currently on the state’s official list of invasive species. Other than that, I’ll include pretty much what I please.
I got a tentative start on the collection late last summer, when some stubborn evening primrose specimens set up housekeeping in my lettuce bed and refused to leave. I fell in love with their color even before I noticed their unforgettable scent. Then the mullein plants, which look like taper candles on steroids, popped up in the Swiss chard and invaded the grape arbor. By the time their impressive single flower stalks had grown taller than me, I was hooked on them, too.
Now it’s spring again, and a whole host of early bloomers will want to join the collection. It’s time to get serious about who to let in, who to weed out, and, where does one put a collection that can’t be displayed on a shelf or neatly archived in an album? But you’ll have to wait for the next episode of Survivor…er…Wayward Weed, to see who gets thrown off the island and who gets to stay.