“Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”A.A.Milne
In lawns and other manicured green spaces, weedy species of plants are undesirable and burdensome, often a mark of disgrace, bringing judgement upon the gardener. These misplaced plants are denounced for their pervasive, prolific, and pushy presence in every plot of land that humans attempt to propagate. Ecologically, weeds are referred to as “naturalized species,” or plant species that have successfully reached level one of ecological function by establishing and maintaining a population outside of their assumed, indigenous, habitat range. In natural systems, they are recognized as the hardy, ground-breaking, resilient, pioneer species that are the first species to colonize a new ecosystem, or re-establish an area that has been disturbed by flood, fire, or other perturbation. They are the widespread generalists, bountiful and beautiful, adept at adaptation, and experts in expansion. Weeds are only undesirable invaders in areas of human disturbance. Looking beyond the gardener’s pristine plot, these plentiful plants are powerful.
As children, many of us discovered the wonder of weedy species wandering our back yard lawn. Chickweed crept through the thick, green turf with its ear-shaped leaves, “hairline” along its stem, and tiny, delicate, star-like, white flowers, a refuge for the garden fairies. Common clover, its white flowers buzzing with bees, brought us to our bellies in hopes of discovering a single stem with the rare and fortuitous fourth leaf. The simple, common “dandy lion,” or dandelion, with its bright, yellow flower head composed of countless tiny, single florets morphed mysteriously into a silvery, soft sphere of seeds, scattered by a single, wish-laden blow. Through a child’s perspective, these pesky perennials had magical properties. They brought joy, luck, and hope. Without judgement, their persistent, misplaced presence was valued.
Like the undesirable species growing in a utopian garden, many members of the human species are judged and devalued. Social stigma germinates around various populations; people with mental illness, substance use disorder, differences in learning styles or intellect, or a criminal background. It is through society’s lens of benightedness and burden that many of us may collectively be perceived, or perceive ourselves, as less worthy than others. However, this is only one perspective. Just as a child appreciates the bewitchment and beauty of the backyard lawn weeds, we can learn to acknowledge and embody our own power when we are feeling misplaced. Our orientation may not be what we envisioned, but in our novel position we can stand proud in our own story. We can root ourselves firmly in the fertile ground of gratitude and self-acceptance, expand our extent to encourage others, scatter the seeds of hope and healing, nurture our natural talents, and mature wholly into our own magic.