Plantwatch: weeds – appreciating the wild things on our streets

Weeds have a public image problem – unloved, trodden on, dug up and sprayed with herbicides. But during lockdown, the weeds in towns and cities have given a contact with nature, no matter how humble their roots. These are, after all, wild plants growing under our feet and they deserve respect.

A study of native British weeds showed that many were highly valuable flowers for bees and butterflies, producing nectar and pollen and also providing them early in the year. Plants such as dandelion and daisy were good for bees and the weed pellitory-of-the-wall, growing in cracks in pavements, is food for the red admiral butterfly. The buddleia bush, growing on walls and almost any waste ground, is a magnet for many butterflies.

In France, herbicides were banned in public places in 2017 and the growth of weeds led to a new interest in them in urban areas – the hugely successful Sauvages de ma rue (Wild things of my street) movement helping city dwellers identify and record the wild plants that grow on their streets. A similar project, More than Weeds, began last year in Britain, showing how to identify weeds growing in pavements, walls and other urban settings, and helping people learn to appreciate them.


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