What is a weed?

December 30, 2016 | Author: | Posted in Gardening

Weed, which is of unknown origin, is a relative term. In the most widely accepted sense, a weed is any troublesome and useless plant growing on cultivated ground to the injury of the crop or vegetation desired. The Oxford dictionary defines the term as “a herbaceous plant not valued for use or beauty, growing wild and rank, and regarded as cumbering the ground and hindering the growth of superior vegetation.” Shakespeare refers to such plants as lacking “both beauty and utility.” But in another sense, any plant growing where it is not wanted is regarded as a weed. In this sense there are no species of weed, because a plant might be a weed in one place and not a weed in another. Even a corn plant growing in a wheat field would be a weed; the same plant in a cornfield would not be so regarded. On this subject the United States Department of Agriculture says: “A weed may be defined as an unwanted plant, or a plant out of place. The morning-glory in the home garden is an ornamental plant; in the cornfield it is a weed. Many other plants are valuable under one set of conditions and pests under other conditions. When pests, they are weeds. When valuable, they are not weeds.” In the more popular sense, however, weed signifies a plant in itself more or less useless irrespective of where it grows. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “And what is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not been discovered.” Weed in such phrases as widow’s weeds is derived from an Anglo-Saxon root meaning “to weave” and is not related to weed in the sense of an obnoxious plant. Formerly clothes in general were called “weeds.” For instance, in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night Viola, disguised as a man, refers to her “maiden weeds” and “woman’s weeds.”

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