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Is that plant a weed?

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As many of my readers know February is not a month I consider as part of the garden calendar, it is a month when nothing really happens in the garden as if Mother Nature is undecided as to when spring should start. As they are not as active at this time of year, weeds that is, it might be a good time to ask ourselves the question, ‘what defines a weed’, with time on our hands, we can then go out in the garden and look for some!

I would suggest a weed is simply a plant that is growing in the wrong place whether in the flower beds as a stand-alone plant or in the lawn. There are of course the obvious weeds such as plantain, cape weed and wire weeds found in lawns, and the groundsel, jumbie bean, fiddlewood etc found in the flower beds and hedgerows. But what about those plants which just ‘appear’ and grow and are left until they become a problem for whatever reason, surely these too must be classed as weeds?

Poor maintenance or land management is often the cause of ‘unwanted’ plants becoming ‘weeds’, just walk around your garden or neighbourhood and observe the number of plants that produce seed, then forget about them. What happens to those seeds when they are ripe, at some point they either fall to the ground or are blown away by wind to land in ‘other areas’ or eaten by birds who then drop same in another area. When the seed ‘lands’ it can either rot and that’s it, or as in many cases it will germinate — at some point in time — and grow; is it then a garden plant or a weed? Consider such plants as Chinese Fan palm; Fiddlewood, Allspice, Mexican Pepper, Surinam Cherry, Pride of India, Schefflera, Canary Island Date palm, Pittosporum to name but a few which all produce seed and at some point it is distributed in and around the area. These are mostly — not all — garden plants used widely in the landscape which are doing what that are supposed to do produce flower and thereafter seed. The problem is, if controls are not in place i.e. removal of germinating seedling, they will continue to grow and in time become a problem to neighbouring plants by taking nutrients and water from the soil that can be used for the ‘garden’ plants, and eventually produce flower and then seed thus perpetuating the problem.

The term ‘invasive species’ is used to define certain plants as being plants that produce abundant amounts of seed which readily germinate e.g. Fiddlewood, Allspice, Washington Palm among others; the problem with this approach is as I stated earlier the result of poor maintenance and land management practice. By removing a seedling as soon as it germinates eliminates the problem altogether, by allowing it and others to grow causes the problem to get out of hand. The landscape is not a static entity maintenance is an ongoing exercise carried out to develop a good healthy landscape whilst retaining select species that have been planted to bloom and mature within the confines of their allotted space. In certain species such as the Chinese Fan palm removal of the flower spike will eliminate the problem of seed production; in others observation of seed production and disbursement will be an indicator to either rake seed up as it falls — if large enough — or look out for germination to start and knock seedlings out at that stage. The function and aesthetic value of a tree is to me the important factor, common sense should dictate — though sense is not common — that it is not a good idea to plant a tree next to the house considering the problems of root systems and water tanks and structural foundations. Seeds are distributed by wind, water and animals with the likelihood they can settle anywhere, and then germinate; it is at this point they start to become a problem if left to grow.

A mature group of Chinese Fan palm (Livistonia chinensis) is in my opinion an attractive addition to any garden — if in the correct spot — especially when found in varying heights. Melia azedarach — pride of India is also a much maligned tree but it has many attributes to offer in the landscape, it has an attractive bark, interesting outline of growth, attractive foliage, flower and, dare I say it, seed. In the fall when leafless the outline of the tree with its ‘dangling’ seed heads is very haunting against a winter sky. Allspice — Pimenta dioica has similar attributes, bark, evergreen foliage, flower and seed; taking the examples further Schinus terebinthifolius — Mexican/Brazilian pepper if pruned correctly will make a nice canopied tree with an abundance of …………….red seeds, just in time for Christmas. One of its close relations is used as a street tree in California enhancing the curb-side with shade and visual appeal. Certain trees such as the Leaucaena — Jumbie Bean, Citharexylum — Fiddlewood are not good trees for the garden and I would not endorse them as a tree worth planting, and would in most cases, especially for the Leaucaena encourage removal.

Is that plant a weed is not as straight-forward a question as first perceived, which in itself defines the need for understanding what you see is not always what you get and more importantly what does your maintenance programme actually include. Unfortunately in such scenarios a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and in the long term a costly exercise. Whatever the plant, be it an Albizzia, Bermuda Cedar or a Zamia if it’s in the wrong place it’s a weed.



Although an invasive spieces, Brazilian pepper, if pruned correctly, can make a nice canopied tree with an abundance of red seeds.
Weeds growing in a lawn.

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Published February 02, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 31, 2013 at 5:54 pm)

Is that plant a weed?

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