City Seedling: On Weeds

“There the sun lighted me to hoe beans … removing the weeds, putting fresh soil about the bean stems, and encouraging this weed which I had sown …” from Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.

Weeds. Everyone hates them. The word itself is ugly. But something I’ve learned in my years of gardening (and reading books about gardening) is that weeds are different things to different people. Some people grow ivy up the side their buildings, others rip it out, calling it invasive. Weeds, like so many things in our world, are socially constructed (see Thoreau, above). There are no inherently good or bad plants; those are qualities we assign to them.

My definition of a weed is any plant you don’t want. A weed could be a dandelion, or it could be a rose bush.  This post celebrates a few of my favorite plants that many consider weeds.

1. Goldenrod

Goldenrod is my absolute favorite. I love the shapes of the individual plants, and I love them en masse in a field. Goldenrod is in the aster family, and there are hundreds of varieties. It is often mistakenly blamed for seasonal allergies (the real culprit is ragweed, which blooms at the same time).

2. Queen Anne’s Lace

via Stock Exhange

Almost everyone loves this flower, which the USDA has listed as a “noxious weed”. These flowers are actually in the carrot family, and their roots can be eaten if the plant is not too old. It is called Queen Anne’s Lace because the white flowers resemble lace, and the red center flower (only sometimes visible) looks like a drop of blood that Anne spilled when pricking herself. (Apparently, that’s a thing?)

3. Mysterious, probably mutant, grass that grows along the highways surrounding Jersey City.

If you’ve ever driven to Newark Airport, you’ve seen this tall marsh grass with the brown fluffy top. I imagine it is some type of pampas grass, but can’t identify it. In one of my slightly crazed wedding planning moments last year, I thought about using these for decor. Then I remembered this story my mom told me about when she picked all this yarrow and while she was carrying it a swarm of ants came out of the flowers. I thought that probably would not be good for our wedding, so my dreams of highway side grass picking were put on hold.

Do you have a favorite “weed”? Tell me about it in the comments!

Happy growing,


Emily Helck

a lifelong New Jersey resident who moved to Jersey City in 2006. She earned an MA in English and writing from Fordham University. In addition to blogging about gardening in the city, her personal blog RTONJ is about being a young adult with cancer. She lives downtown with a dog, two cats, and her husband.