How One Man’s Weed Can Be Another’s Pollination Powerhouse

Butterfly on a Pollinator Plant FeatureI was on a plant walk in early spring with people who enjoy the outdoors, delight in gardening, and love to learn. I was pointing out early spring plants, including natives. As I talked about the beauty and demand for spring flowering plants like squaw weed, may apple, Christmas fern, and lyre-leaved salvia, someone said, “But, Dr. A, these are just weeds.” And in fact, weeds they were. These plants are all over woodlands and roadways in the Southeast.

A Weed is Simply a Plant Out of Place
Many people are happy to pay hard-earned dollars for these so-called weeds. They are colorful, easy to grow, and come back year after year.


Don’t believe me? Just look around at the movement to native plants in this country. When this grassroots movement started to resonate in garden circles, most breeders and garden centers did not listen. Today, landscapers, designers, and gardeners demand natives. Breeders scramble for new nativars of Salvia, Coreopsis, Echinacea, and Rudbeckia, while garden centers devote entire sections to these plants and the pollinators they attract. They are now sold by hundreds of producers, mail-order nurseries, and retailers — and every one is a weed somewhere in this country.

It’s all About Your Perspective
The lawn of one of my friends was yellow with dandelions, and he was bemoaning this awful invasion. Another friend walked up and lauded him for providing so many excellent plants for pollinators. Garden writers and speakers are now labeling dandelions as a fine pollinator plant.

My point here is to remind you that people’s tastes are different. As songwriter Paul Simon told us, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.”

But What About Invasives?
I only need to see cameras clicking with excitement during the wild wisteria season in Athens, GA, to know that the battle against invasives will be long and hard. Cars stop and people gaze up at the beautiful, lavender Chinese wisteria cloaking the oaks and pines along the roadways. It is indeed beautiful, but not to those of us who watch the demise of the woodlands slowly but surely. In this case, one man’s treasure is another man’s rubbish.

Yet, entrepreneurship is alive and well. I was reminded of this by a retailer who was successfully promoting liverworts as rock garden plants. Several establishments thrive on selling flats of moss for $12.95 a flat. Moss is the stuff we cover with lime to eradicate in our greenhouses and gardens. And what do people do with the moss flats they buy? Some plant a moss lawn, while others might mix it in a blender with buttermilk and paint the rocks around their pond (honestly, I am not making this up).

The Newest Pollinator Craze Isn’t What You Think
Have you heard of caterpillar gardening? I took Ian, my Australian friend, to visit Wilber and Marion Duncan, well-known botanists and plant lovers in Athens. After touring for a time, Marion invited us in for some iced tea. On the coffee table was a vase of freshly picked wild Angelica. Caterpillars covered its flowers, happily chomping away on the stems. You may recoil at caterpillars in the kitchen, but they were going nowhere. It was impossible not to be entertained as we drank our tea and watched those caterpillars.

The moral of this tale is if you get tired of growing Knockouts and marigolds, do not fret. There are several possibilities for you to explore. I have a few wonderful weeds I can recommend, and I found used blenders and vases on eBay.