Gateway to the Classics: Wild-Flower Study by Anna Botsford Comstock
Wild-Flower Study by  Anna Botsford Comstock



Photo by Cyrus Crosby.


"The worst weed in corn may be—corn."

—Professor I. P. Roberts.

Nature is the great farmer. Continually she sows and reaps, making all the forces of the universe her tools and helpers; the sun's rays, wind, rain and snow, insects and birds, animals small and great, even to the humble burrowing worms of the earth—all work mightily for her, and a harvest of some kind is absolutely sure. But if man interferes and insists that the crops shall be only such as may benefit and enrich himself, she seems to yield a willing obedience, and under his control does immensely better work than when unguided. But Dame Nature is an "eye-servant." Let the master relax his vigilance for ever so short a time, and among the crops of his desire will come stealing in the hardy, aggressive, and to him, useless plants that seem to be her favorites.

A weed is a plant growing where we wish something else to grow, and a plant may, therefore, be a weed in some locations and not in others. The mullein is grown in greenhouses in England as the American velvet-plant. Our grandmothers considered "butter-and-eggs," a pretty posy, and planted it in their gardens, wherefrom it escaped, and is now a bad weed wherever it grows. A weed may crowd out our cultivated plants, by stealing the moisture and nourishment in the soil which they should have; or it may shade them out by putting out broad leaves and shutting off their sunlight. When harvested with a crop, weeds may be unpalatable to the stock which feed upon it; or in some cases, as in the wild parsnip, the plant may be poisonous.

Each weed has its own way of winning in the struggle with our crops, and it behooves us to find that way as soon as possible in order to circumvent it. This we can only do by a careful study of the peculiarities of the species. To do this we must know the plant's life history; whether it is an annual, surviving the winter only in its seeds; or a biennial, storing in fleshy root or in broad, green leafy rosette the food drawn from the soil and air during the first season, to perfect its fruitage in the second year; or a perennial, surviving and springing up to spread its kind and pester the farmer year after year, unless he can destroy it "root and branch." Purslane is an example of the first class, burdock or mullein of the second, and the field sorrel or Canada thistle of the third. According to their nature the farmer must use different means of extermination; he must strive to hinder the annuals and biennials from forming any seed whatever; and where perennials have made themselves a pest, he must put in a "hoed crop," requiring such constant and thorough tillage that the weed roots will be deprived of all starchy food manufactured by green leaves and be starved out. Especially every one who plants a garden should know how the weeds look when young, for seedlings of all kinds are delicate and easy to kill before their roots are well established.

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