Based on growing evidence for the role of greenspace in mental health and the importance of plant life for a slew of environmental services (including temperature regulation, air quality improvement, and soil stabilization), the plant community I work with is beneficial and should be embraced. A small but growing cadre of defenders respectfully refer to these plants as “spontaneous urban plants” that inhabit “novel ecosystems” which are in urgent need of further study.
To the average city-dweller, and compared to their cultivated counterparts, the species I advocate for can appear “messy” and unrefined: flowers that are too small, seed pods that are too big, thorns that tear clothing, roots that reach into brick and asphalt. They may seem indicative of disrepair, of indolence, of a community down on its luck or still climbing towards peak gentrification. It is perhaps this sensibility that drives building superintendents and maintenance crews out into the streets to “clean up” (massacre) these plants on a regular basis.
Is it really worth raging against the geographical pedigree of a plant introduced 200 years ago if it’s functioning to stabilize soil, feed late season pollinators, generate oxygen, cool the ground, and improve human mental health? Sure, there are villainous weeds out there (think Kudzu), but it’s all context-based, and plant communities that suffer from being overrun by a weedy villain are often not in the best shape to begin with.
Another Medium post from Ellie, on her weed garden and closing panel at CSAA:
The non-native interlopers who’ve taken up residence in the harsh urban environment of Bushwick aren’t pushing out native species, they’re filling empty niches. Adapted to difficult conditions, with flexible reproductive habits and opportunistic growth patterns, these urban plants are much better-suited to living side by side with Homo sapiens, despite our indifference to (or even aggressive dislike of) them.