Good Weed, Bad Weed
It's all in the eye of the beholder.
by Nancy Gordon
A weed is simply a plant in the wrong place. But which plants and what places are a deeply personal matter. I realized this when I joined a work party at a town park and everyone was weeding differently. Some were scouring the ground bare, some were selectively plucking up elm seedlings or silver leaf nightshades, others hoed goatheads and horehound, and one ambitious individual was grubbing out a tree of heaven, roots and all. All of us were convinced ours were the baddest weeds of all and attacked them with a vengeance.
"Yellow spiny daisy" or "slender goldenweed."
(Photos: Nancy Gordon)
There was one in particular, though, that I left alone. A few years ago, I hated this weed. It was a spindly gray-green plant covered with innocent yellow daisies that quickly mutated into dandelion-like seed-clouds. It grew everywhere, erupting from sidewalk cracks all over town, blanketing vacant lots, and infesting my yard. I knew when it went to seed, there would be millions more to deal with the following year.
I was obsessed with getting rid of it. Week after week, I attacked it with hoe and weed eater, and yanked it up by the roots. But it kept coming back, its yellow eyes mocking me. I went on autopilot, pulling up the pesky weeds wherever I saw them — in my yard, neighbors' yards, at the post office parking lot.
It wasn't until I visited a friend, littering the path to her door with uprooted gray-green skeletons, that I realized how manic I'd become. She greeted me with a quizzical look and asked gently, "Why are you pulling up my wildflowers?"
Could this be true? I went home and looked up the plant in a wildflower book, surfed the Internet, and phoned a botanist. They confirmed that my weed was indeed a native wildflower, a "yellow spiny daisy" or "slender goldenweed." Its scientific name was Xanthisma gracile — "gracile" meaning slender and graceful. It also had the unique genetic distinction of being the only member of the plant kingdom with just two pairs of chromosomes.
Suddenly, my nemesis had my respect. I was in awe. This persistent little daisy had a focused and efficient genetic code. Be a plant. Grow. Flower. Send swarms of seeds off on the wind. My 23 pairs of chromosomes were no match for its two. I felt humbled by this simple plant on which I'd wasted so much energy.
When I looked at the little spiny plants again, I saw them in a new light. Their sunny yellow faces grinned back at me knowingly.
"Look at us," they seemed to say. We're simple and elegant. We're good at what we do.
We're your friends.
Since then, I've been more careful about labeling plants as weeds or wildflowers. My current weeding frenzies have been directed at goatheads. The goathead plant, also known as "puncture vine," is a terribly invasive weed with hard, sharp-pointed fruits that stick in animal paws and flatten bicycle tires.
Then, just recently, a man was watching me whack away at a patch of weeds. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"Getting rid of goatheads," I said, keeping my eyes to the ground.
"Goatheads are good for you," he said.
I stopped hoeing and looked at him. "Huh?"
"I eat goatheads. They make me strong," he said, thumping his chest with his fists to emphasize the point.
I told him he could pick all he wanted, and went back to weeding.
But my curiosity got to me. I checked out Tribulus terrestris on the Internet and, sure enough, it's used as an herbal medicine. You can buy goathead extract that is not only supposed to strengthen muscles and help your heart but is also an alleged aphrodisiac.
That took me back a bit. I had to reconsider my actions. Now I look at goatheads differently, even respectfully, realizing that they have value to some people — as I continue chopping away at them with a hoe.
Sorry, but they're still weeds to me.
I'd say it's nothing personal, but it is.
Nancy Gordon wrote about the Bataan Death March re-creation in our March 2010 issue. She lives in Silver City.
In the News
Media mentions of our little corner of the world.
Guidebook author Zora O'Neill, in the Travel section of the New York Times, wrote about Silver City's culinary scene ("Looking for Big Flavors in a Small New Mexico Town"):
"Silver, as it's known, has recently become a road-trip destination among those willing to drive for a good meal…. The town founders were determined to make a lasting place, unlike other slapdash mining camps. So up rose grand limestone, brick and cast-iron edifices. They weathered the crash of the silver market, two flash floods and the collapse of downtown commerce that beset so many small American towns. Now that sturdy shell fosters creativity — including our next meals."
TAKE THE I-25 TATOOINE EXIT
Latino Review reported: "Over the past couple of days, the talk of New Mexico being used for the new Star Wars movies has been pretty constant. What wasn't mentioned is where in New Mexico they would choose to film. Today we have our answer: The City of Crosses, Las Cruces.
"Looking at some of the pictures from the area this location could definitely work for areas of Tatooine and possibly the Sith homeworld of Korriban itself.
"According to my source, very little will be shot in Las Cruces along with Los Angeles and 90% will be done in London when filming gets underway in 2014."
England's Daily Mail newspaper reported that "Star Trek" star William Shatner opted not to be a passenger at New Mexico's Spaceport America. Virgin Galactic honcho Richard Branson blamed Shatner's fear of flying, which the actor confessed in his autobiography. But as the io9 website picked up the story: "Shatner's explanation has less to do with fear, and more to do with money — Branson wanted Shatner to pay for the trip, and Shatner wanted to be paid. Said Shatner: 'He wanted me to go up and pay for it and I said, "Hey, you pay me and I'll go. I'll risk my life for a large sum of money." But he didn't pick me up on my offer.'" Shatner then commented via Twitter: "As for the silly Daily Mail story — again with Virgin??? How old is this story? They want me to pay and they are using my name for publicity."
Mark Leibovich, in his new book Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America's Gilded Capital, describes this 2008 scene:
"From the moment Obama secured the Democratic nomination , he and his staff were subjected to a frantic frenzy of flattery. Serial sucking up is common to any hot political enterprise, but it reached comic levels of desperation in this case. Bill Richardson, who was then the governor of New Mexico and had run unsuccessfully for president earlier in 2008, pulled aside Joe Biden before a campaign event in Mesilla, New Mexico, in October. 'Joe, you got to make me secretary of state,' Richardson pleaded in an exchange that surprised nearby campaign staffers for how naked — and public — it was."
The Tumbleweeds Top 10
Who and what's been making news from New Mexico this past month, as measured by mentions in Google News (news.google.com). Trends noted are vs. last month's total hits; * indicates new to the list. Number in parenthesis indicates last month's Top 10 rank. From drought and wildfires to flooding, all in one news cycle! Plus, for those of you keeping score at home, "New Mexico + Breaking Bad" just missed the cutoff, with 117 hits.
1. (2) Gov. Susana Martinez — 300 hits (▼)
2. (6) New Mexico wolves — 237 hits (▲)
3. (1) New Mexico + immigration — 234 hits (▼)
4. (3) New Mexico drought — 215 hits (▼)
5. (7) Sen. Tom Udall — 197 hits (▲)
6. (-) New Mexico flooding — 183 hits*
7. (5) Virgin Galactic — 180 hits (▼)
8. (8) Ex-Gov. Bill Richardson — 167 hits (▲)
9. (9) New Mexico wildfires — 159 hits (-)
10. (-) New Mexico gay marriage — 144 hits (-)
Life in a State of Nature
Reader photos of creatures big and small.
Our photographic "zoo" continues to fill up, as readers respond to our call for their favorite local wildlife photos. The monsoon rains brought out a variety of critters to pose for readers' cameras, such as this bunny snapped by Lon K. Shelton of Deming, who writes: "Recent rains have brought an abundance of 'green' to our backyard wildlife sanctuary — too bad the rabbits don't seem to find the weeds very tasty. This one was heard muttering, 'green, green everywhere, but not a bite to eat.'"
Still more exotic, at least to our eyes, was this "badger making an unusual daytime appearance," sent in by Joel Chinkes from Hidden River Ranch in Columbus.
This month's deer photo is another submission from the desert yard of Debbie Morris of Las Cruces.
Less benign was this find by Susan Byersdorfer: "This Blacktail Rattlesnake was discovered by my dog Bristol. She barked viciously and constantly from a distance until I stopped weed-eating to deal with the intruder."
And finally, as promised, here's one more rare insect sighting by Elroy Limmer of Silver City — Sumichrast's Toothpick Grasshopper, Achurum sumichrasti. He writes: "A very unusual looking critter, about 2.5 inches long. I saw several late in February this year when I was cleaning up some clumps of Little Bluestem grass. So I know that they can or do overwinter as adults."
Share your own photos of the Southwest's "zoo." Show us what you've seen out there, large or small, from snakes to swallowtails. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to PO Box 191, Silver City, NM 88062, and include your postal address for a little thank-you.