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Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The beauty of weeds

They know, they just know where to grow, how to dupe you, and how to camouflage themselves among the perfectly respectable plants, they just know, and therefore, I’ve concluded weeds must have brains.
~Dianne Benson, Dirt, 1994

Wikipedia says, “Weed is a term used commonly to describe unwanted plants in human-controlled settings, such as farm fields, gardens, lawns, and parks — and carries no botanical classification value, since a plant that is a weed in one context is not a weed when growing where it is wanted”.

There are many weeds equally as beautiful as any wanted flower planted in a garden. There are some that I welcome in my garden, like the Dandelion, the Pom-pom weed and this beauty, which looks like nothing until it’s insignificant little flowers burst into gorgeous fluff balls.

Which of my photographs is my favourite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.
-Imogen Cunningham

Khaki bush seeds (Tagetes munuta)

I absolutely LOVE Khaki bush (also known as Black Jacks), but I also have this love-hate relationship with it. It has these tenaciously sticky seeds that come off from the seed heads at the slightest touch and embed themselves in any form of clothing.

After walking through a field of these you can end up looking like you are covered in black spiky fur. During my walks on our smallholding, I always try and dodge them but inevitably I end up spending hours plucking them from my pants and socks. The solution? Wear shorts…

The leaves and flowers are a good insect repellent and are often seen hanging from native huts to deter swarms of flies and mosquitoes. I pull out the complete plant, strip off the leaves, releasing the strong perfume and throw it amongst the bedding of my chickens in the chicken coop. In a 5% dilution, tagetes oil has been used to kill maggots in open wounds, while the roots and seeds have been found to help rid the body of poisons. After the Boer war in South Africa, Australian troops brought plants to their native land where it grew profusely. It is an ingredient of many foot treatment preparations and is also used in some perfumes.

With the grass turning yellow and a nip in the morning air, it’s plain that we’re heading for Autumn already. One of our March/April jobs on the smallholding is to cut the grass and make fire-breaks. We started early this year as Nature is clearly indicating she has plans for an early Winter!

Pompom weed (Campuloclinium macrocephalum)

Following the tractor around, I also get a chance to ‘rescue’ small wildlife and flowers, giving the driver strict instructions to ‘go around’ it. This Pompom weed was blowing around briskly in the breeze and I had to hold it still to get a shot. These wildflowers have been blooming on our smallholding the whole summer, making bright pink splashes against the blue-green grass all along our fence.

 Pom-pom weed

 Pom-pom weed

The Pompom weed (Campuloclinium macrocephalum) is an ornamental South American herb belonging to the daisy family, Asteraceae. It is rapidly becoming the most serious threat to the conservation of grasslands in South Africa. Infestations become conspicuous when the plants are in flower between December and March, transforming the veld from green to pink. The plant initially establishes itself in disturbed sites such as roadsides, but then invades natural grasslands, open savanna and wetlands. This weed displaces native species, reducing both the biological diversity and carrying capacity of vleis and veld.

John Steinbeck once wrote, ‘Change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like a stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.’

An absolute favourite of mine is Dandelions - the tiny little yellow flowers are absolutely gorgeous when viewed close-up and the seeds are a wonder of nature. Dandelion Taraxacum is a large genus of flowering plants in the family Asteraceae. They are native to Eurasia and North and South America, and two species, T. officinale and T. erythrospermum, are found as weeds worldwide. Both species are edible in their entirety.

 Dandelions taking off in the breeze

While many people think of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, it's chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines.

An area of my lawn covered in Dandelions - they provide such a beautiful splash of colour


Walking around the area of my wildlife pond, I saw what looked like a GIANT DANDELION, but upon closer inspection, I could see that, besides it’s size, there was something different. So off to Google I went and found that it was Salsify, and I’m absolutely thrilled that I have this lovely herb in my garden!

This is a plant with a root and not actually a weed at all, but a vegetable, much like a carrot, that can be eaten. But it certainly looks and acts like a weed! Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) looks like a giant dandelion, and in a similar fashion, the bright yellow flower turns into a dainty, but large, puffball, dispersing hundreds of seeds into the wind.

Salsify is also known as Goat’s Beard or Vegetable Oyster as their mild and sweet flavour is often compared to that of oysters. Some say they have a slight asparagus or artichoke taste, with an after-taste of coconut. The leaves of the salsify plant are edible; this root vegetable is not often seen in supermarkets in South Africa, but is as easy to grow as carrots or parsnips.


The Salsify pom-pom before opening

So next time, before you just pull out all the weeds in your garden, leave them for a while to see what flower it produces, you might just be pleasantly surprised!



  1. I do agree with you. Weeds that naturally thrive are actually quite beautiful. The main reason why most people hate them is when they are trying to cultivate a controlled garden with a specific aesthetic in mind and having such unwanted plants grow in it is just annoying, right? However, I believe when weeds are left to grow on their own in the wild, they can really thrive and be beautiful in their own way. :)

    Billy Quaid @ MPDT

    1. I so agree with you Billy, thank you for stopping by!

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