Today at a thrift store I found “Common Weeds,” a coloring book put out by Dover in 1976. First let me say that I love Dover. They produce a million inexpensive educational books, including many collections of clip art. I have used their interesting copyright-free images in many a zine, and I find their books delightful. Once I even wrote an email to them telling them how much I loved their company because they’d kept my zine enterprise looking pretty, and a sweet woman wrote me right back and told me Dover was glad to have me as part of the family.
Anyway, this book is interesting because it helps to define what makes a weed a weed. Think about it: weeds are just plants. Many of them are flowering, and some are edible. A person could certainly decide to cultivate many of the plants we consider weeds, and in fact my mom has tansy, a yellow-flowering herb, growing in her garden right now–and this is one of the ones included in the book.
So what is a weed? E. F. Bleiler, the editor of this pretty little book, wrote a short introduction on the question. Bleiler said a weed is usually defined as a “vigorous, intrusive wild plant that becomes a nuisance.” It doesn’t say anything about their being ugly, or not useful. Lots of people like weeds, and I’m one of them.
Like, honeysuckle is the first entry in the book. Any gardener will tell you that honeysuckle can be a real problem because it grows like crazy and chokes other plants out. But it is a beautiful vine, and when we were kids we plucked the lovely white flowers, put them in our mouths as we pulled the stamen through, and told ourselves the sweet taste was honey.
Thinking about the value of weeds reminds me of a poem by Michelle Tea that I LOVE. It’s about pigeons, and how she likes them and even identifies with them in some ways. She says, “I am suspicious of people who say they hate pigeons. I think, Who else do you hate?”
The thing about weeds is, they grow where other things can’t. In shallow, poor soil; in wasteground; in parking lots; between cracks in the sidewalk. They grow where they can and they thrive. There’s a metaphor in that for sure.