Weeds Are Us | By Michael Pollan | Issue 236 | The Sun Magazine

Weeds Are Us

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In defense of weeds: Michael Pollan is dead wrong. Weeds are wild. They are a vital part of the process known as ecological succession, in which weeds grow on disturbed land as yet unsuited for other species. They enrich the soil and make it possible for other plants to grow there eventually.

Disturbed land existed long before humans, thanks to such natural disasters as floods, landslides, fires, and storms. Yes, weeds have benefited immensely from and thrive on human-made disturbances, yet they were in no way created by them. Weeds are not “imperialists” — they are simply ephemeral plants whose advantage lies largely in their lightning-quick growth and reproduction. Weeds are soon replaced by the stable plants of a mature ecosystem, should humans allow one to develop.

In categorizing naturalists and environmentalists who defend weeds as naive romantics, Pollan betrays his “realist” view of nature. The only creatures on this earth who “extend their dominion so far and as brutally as they can” are humans.

Jonathan Paynter Carr Rye, New York

Thanks to Michael Pollan for his delightful and insightful article on weeds. I also was a victim of the right-to-life-of-weeds syndrome, and outgrew it almost as fast.

Dandelions were my nemesis. Many times I was caught standing in the yard, the battle rage upon me, a variety of wicked-looking instruments by my side, prepared to wage war against an evil, malignant, and merciless foe. I even had to be physically restrained from buying chemical weedkiller, which, in my normal state of mind, would be akin to torturing house pets.

Then I started to notice what Pollan confirms: there are no dandelions in the wild. The old-growth trails where I walk my dogs, for example, boast no dandelions. There, the weeds are grass iris and delicate yellow vetch, Oregon grape and trillium.

Is it true, then, that the hated, hardy weeds are products of our own cultivation? Are they then ours to do with what we will? Can we exterminate them in good conscience? Or are we even more obliged to give them free reign?

These are merely academic questions, because the truth is we can’t exterminate weeds. No matter what means we stoop to, we have to come to terms with the fact that the dandelion god is, quite possibly, stronger than all of ours put together.

Amber Miller Corvallis, Oregon

I very much enjoyed Michael Pollan’s “Weeds Are Us” [August 1995]. As a vegetarian here in prison, where vegetarianism is looked at as defiant or peculiar, I have recently come to appreciate weeds and their great value. Since my access to vegetarian food has dwindled in the last few years, I have taken a crash course on edible plants and have found many weeds to be quite tasty and nutritious. I am also grateful for their adaptability and hardiness; the yard crews here are instructed to cut weeds down and tear them out as fast as they appear, but while a “crop” is destroyed in one part of the yard, another is surfacing elsewhere. Having to hunt for my daily bread keeps me in tune with nature and respectful and appreciative of food. If more people did this, I think it would eliminate much of the overconsumption and many eating disorders so prevalent in today’s society.

Jeri Becker Frontera, California
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