There are some very clever t-shirts out there. We all have our favorites. Mine says, “Stop Calling the Wildflowers Weeds.” I hear a similar question all the time on plant identification posts “Is this a weed or a plant?” That answer is, “It depends, and yes, it is a plant.”


Why is there any confusion? We all know what weeds are, right? Read further and prepare to have your mind blown:

  • Can a weed be pretty? Yes. Wisteria comes to mind.
  • Do they sell weeds at the local nursery? Yes. Privet for example.
  • Is a Japanese maple a weed? It can be.
  • Is a dandelion a weed? Not at my house.
  • Could a plant be considered a weed in one place in your yard and not in another? Yes.


“How could this be?” you ask with great skepticism. (Admit it!) Answer: Because a weed is not what you think it is.


You see there is no ‘List of Weeds’ in the big compendium of plants of the world. There is no plant called Weedus communalis (common weed) or anything of the sort. No plant is, by biological classification, a “weed”. Every plant is native somewhere and appropriates there. “So what is a weed then?” you ask in frustration and with a dollop of dubiousness toward the writer. Here’s your answer: A weed is a plant out of place.


Here’s an example of what this means. I once had a big and very happy Japanese maple. It was a gorgeous weeping, lacey, red variety – the envy of the neighbors. One year, in its zest for living, it produced about a zillion seeds, hundreds of which sprouted right underneath the mother plant. Of course, I didn’t want hundreds of seedlings growing under my tree. If left alone, it would soon have become a Japanese maple thicket instead of a specimen tree. Those seedlings were weeds because they were not in an appropriate place. Yep. Japanese maple can be a weed.


Many of us think of weeds as the plants that we’ve learned are weeds. We take it on hearsay, or common convention, or from the advice of the lawn guy, or with the idea that “since I don’t know what it is, it must be a weed.” Our modern idea of good versus bad plants (aka weeds) is very narrow. I challenge you to take a different approach. Next time you see a volunteer plant come up in your flowerbed or wooded area, leave it alone and see what it becomes. If it overgrows its spot or becomes unattractive, it is easy enough to remove later. However, you might be rewarded with something pretty (plants gotta bloom!), and more importantly, that plant may be an important nectar source for bees and butterflies, or a seed source for birds, or larval host, and who knows what else.


The law at our house is, you can’t kill it unless you know exactly what it is, what the flower looks like – most plants flower in one way or another at some point – and you have to have a good reason for removing it. If you think of all the free, volunteer plants as wildflowers rather than as weeds, you’ll be happier with your yard, and so will the wild things that share our world. Maybe you too will start to follow the advice of my favorite t-shirt and “Stop calling the wildflowers weeds.”


Here are a few wildflowers at our place. They are all volunteers:

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