Are natives actually weeds? How to you tell?

Suzi AKA DesertDanceMarch 10, 2014

We have 1.5 acres of property, and a portion of it is planted with fruit trees or flowering trees. BUT there is this section that is all native. Looks like friggin weeds to me!

There is a deciduous tree... maybe an oak of some kind down by the seasonal stream, but there is so much confusion and all of it is a fire waiting to happen. A random seed of that "oak" rooted in a crack of a rock. We leave it there. Not hurting anybody.

But the rest of the stuff looks like awful bushy nastiness!

Suzi

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edlincoln(6A)

People act as if "weed" has some definite, concrete meaning. The truth is, a weed is any plant growing where you don't want it. Grass in a flower bed is a weed, and flowers in a corn field are weeds.

Any plant that grows well in the area has the potential to be weedy. Some weeds are invasives (foreign plants imported from over seas that did a little too well). Others are natives that adapted well to humans. (Good for the planet in the long run, maybe bad for you in the short run.) An untrained eye can't tell which by looking. You would need an expert on local plants to look at them. You could take pictures of plants you are unsure of and post photos here or in the "name that plant" section.

*IF* those plants are all natives, the best thing for the environment would be to leave them...scrubby messes are great for birds. This is one of those "cost benefit analysis" situations...weighing the desire to be "earth friendly" against the desire to have things neat. It's also a question of what is your subjective sense of aesthetics. What makes these plants look weedy to you? Do they need to be pruned? Do you want rows and places to walk? Are they intrinsically ugly plants?

Wait until Spring before you pull anything unfamiliar...some of them may have been planted because of pretty flowers.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 2:30PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Good weed description Ed.

Around here most of the natural areas are honeysuckle infested. Not a native and not "neat" looking.

Out in the country forty or so miles away you can see some rather neat woods along the road where the progression of trees seems to make sense.

Now an area that was dug up last year or the year before will probably be a "mess" of overgrown grasses in either place.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 2:46PM
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lycopus(z5 NY)

Just because a plant is growing wild doesn't necessarily make it native. About a third or more of the plants you find in any given area can be non-native.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 3:55PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

I just read about edible weeds. Maybe you should google it.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 4:02PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

Disturbance of a ecosystem will cause messiness.It might be that everything is wild, but at onetime , things were all cleared away and then it all sprouted at the sometime and it is in a stage where that new growth is in a stage of competition. After learning what you have, one can go through and weed, thin so the more desirables can get a better hold. A controlled burn, might be what you need, but might be illegal where you are, not to mention scary.

This post was edited by wantonamara on Wed, Mar 12, 14 at 22:37

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 10:31PM
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wisconsitom

Yup, generalizations can steer one wrong. It is necessary to actually know what it is you're looking at. And as has been noted, it is highly unlikely that all or even most of the plants you reference are native species. If you can solicit the help of a competent botanist/biologist/arborist/horticulturist...someone that has good plant ID skills, you may find that there are plants within this matrix that are well-worth fostering. And you may also learn which if any species are limiting the long-term success of the area as a viable plant community, which need not necessarily consist only of native species, but will need to be free of troublesome invasives.

+oM

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 10:38AM
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krnuttle

The best way to turn an area that is a mess is to start working it. When faced with this situation I grab an a hatchet, Loppers, weed hoe, or whatever and slowly start working the area. With the hatchet you can cut the heavy undergrowth and start the trimming off small branches. Use the loopers to cut the big vines. (watch out of poison ivy and oak, it is waiting for you.) Using the weed hoe cut the brambles off near the ground. And with what ever works knock the vines out of the trees.

Don't expect to go out there with a bunch of tools and get it looking good in an afternoon. In this way, the only thing that you will accomplish is making a pile of brush to take care of. Start with the vines, these usually are or contribute to the messy appearance of an area. Do a little trimming here and there. Use the loopers to cut up the vines, and small branches that are poking up through the leaves and snagging you when you walk by. Cut what looks like it will never be worth any thing; promote what looks good. Many times you can change the appearance of an area by pulling down the dead and broken limbs

When ever I have an hour, I take one of the tools mentioned above, and take a walk through the area. Even on those days when you don't make it to the tool shed you can do some minor trimming with your pocket knife, and tromp down the little sticks breaking them into the leaves and soil.

We moved in to this house in the fall and have been here for three springs now When we moved in, the back "40" was a bramble thicket. Over the past seasons working the area a little at a time, it is now a pretty wild area. Clear and neat

Wild areas need a lot of work to look wild, not brushy. So develop the habit of walk the area with an implement of destruction doing a little trimming and cutting now and then. It will become just part of your relaxation routine

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 8:29PM
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Denver_Designer(5)

Some natives look like weeds while others are quite beautiful. If you don't like the natives you have now, perhaps you can replace them with others that you like better.

Natives attract wildlife and are typically easy to grow.

Here is a link that might be useful: Native Plants Feed Wildlife, Add Excitement to Garden

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 4:20PM
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canadianplant

"weeds" is just peoples way of saying unwanted plants. To some people oaks are weeds but to some they are the most beautiful things you can find.

A better example would be dandelion. They are fully edibe as a salad item, can be used for wine and tea as well. They also break up hard soil, attract many pollinators, bring up nutrients which would usually be unexcessable by other plants therefore creating soil where there is little fertility. Just because we dont like it and call it a weed doesnt mean they are useless!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 4:39PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Every landscape has a succession of plants that develop to a maturity and stability that might last for thousands or tens or hundreds of thousands of years. Likely your property is disturbed soil--disturbed in the last few decades--and what is growing in it now is possibly the first generation of the succession--"pioneer plants"--grasses, coarse vines--what we might think of as weeds. A typical succession is that sort of thing followed by fast growing, coarse shrubs and trees. That shades out the grasses and such. Finally hardwood trees that have long lives shade out the coarse shrubs and trees and the area is left to mature forest. A devastating wildfire (for example) that destroys the mature forest leads to disturbed soil once again, and the process repeats itself.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ecological succession

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 4:50PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance

Thanks for all the responses. We do fear fire here. We live on the upside of a hill and own property down the ravine, across a seasonal stream and halfway up the next hill.

Part of it is fenced, and within that fence is drip irrigation. We are doing what we can to plant fruit trees and non-native edibles.

It's the part outside the fence that worries me. That ravine catches fire, we are toast!!

We had 30' of it cleared last year, but it's spring, and things are growing.

I appreciate the suggestion of clearing one bit at a time, day by day. I love green growing things, and native sages, rosemary, and others can stay, but I'm not a fan of the seed spreading things that show up where they aren't wanted.

Fear of Fire is my motivation. We have nine 25+ year old pines on this property. One spark will ignite them all and consume our home. We did not plant them, but they are here, and babies are growing.

We need to decrease the chance of sparks by removing any dead wood of any native thing down in that ravine.

I don't HATE these weeds. I just fear fire!

Suzi

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 8:28PM
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edlincoln(6A)

You have to decide what your criteria is. What do you want growing there? A few big fields? A prairie? A lawn? Take photos, post them online, get them identified. Then, when you know what they are and what you want, mark the ones you want to keep and chop down the rest. Plant plenty of whatever sort of plant you want and hope they out compete the weeds.

Of course, keeping it from being scrubby will require regular maintenance. Getting rid of the things that reseeds is a lost cause...SOMETHING will reseed unless you pave the entire area over. All you can do is either regularly clear it or fill it with something aggressive hat you like.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 8:15PM
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