You’ve all heard the expression “Stop and smell the roses.” It’s a call to stress relief by appreciating little things while slowing down, pausing, looking and sniffing.
I would like to add another expression for all those reasons and one more. I would add “Stop and smell the weeds.”
The additional reasons would be “behold the creations of nature that come to us without cultivation.”
But if you are going to stop and smell the weeds, you can’t do it by driving by in your car, you can’t do it on a motorcycle or bike, you can’t do it on roller blades and you can’t do it running. You need to walk –- not on a sidewalk, but on a path or along a rural road.
I’m talking about native plants and wild flowers that show up where nobody is mowing, or where the mowers stop and leave a strip of whatever wants to grow there.
This is not to diminish our appreciation of a well-manicured lawn, a flower garden, a vegetable garden or strategically located shrubs or grasses. I’m talking about nature’s own random plantings.
Some are weeds. Ugly weeds. Individually they may be ugly, but in a group, they stand up, holding down the soil, preventing erosion, protecting the wild flowers and grasses. They’re not so ugly anymore.
Take the milkweed for example. Is it a weed or a wild flower, or both? Milkweeds can be 2- to 3-feet tall and appear ugly until blooms appear. They grow in soil that may be rocky, sandy or gravelly or even in pure clay in full sun. Some are known as butterfly milkweed because they are the sole environment for Monarch butterflies as well as a site to bring about fruits and seeds supporting a whole cast of creatures and characters involved in the growth of many of our foods.
Many ugly “weeds” develop blooms that, while they may not be attractive, support pollination ports for bees and therefore are building blocks in the web of life. At a time when we are losing bees, we must be aware of their habitat.
To the casual observer (and I am a casual observer without the least background in native plants –- I’m glad you can’t see the grades I got in biology), yellow appears to be nature’s favorite color for native plants. For example, yellow black-eyed Susans grow just about everywhere in the Midwest on roadsides with a range of soils from wet to dry where they self-sow. There are many varieties of sunflowers.
Are there more yellow wild flowers? Consider: yellow birch, yellow coneflower, yellow giant hyssop, yellow honeysuckle, yellow meadow-rue, yellow pimpernel, yellow pond-lily, yellow purple coneflower, yellow stargrass, yellow trout-lily, yellow wild indigo, yellowwood and plains sneezeweed.
The tall grass prairie once dominated the central part of our nation -– the great plains. Grasses up to 12-feet tall fed elk, deer, pronghorn and between 30-35 million bison or buffalo. Thousands of birds and insect species also made their homes there, including hundreds of kinds of butterflies. Grass anchors the soil and prevents erosion. Is grass a weed? Is grass ugly? No way.
So I say, take a hike, then stop and smell the weeds. Each little island of weeds is a tiny wilderness to be looked at, loved, appreciated and smelled.
If you want to read what learned scholars say about native plants, read "Native Plants of the Midwest" by Alan Branhagen or, a child’s book, "Prairie Builders" by Sneed B. Collard III. You can find them both through your public library.