by Peter Del Tredici

I thought I’d seen the last of the term “politically incorrect,” which has become almost as combustible as “liberal.” But just as there was a backlash against “political correctness,” there now seems to be a mini-backlash against the native plant movement, in articles like the one Susan wrote about a few posts back, and one published in the Boston Globe Saturday.

 This is Not a Weed follows scientist Peter Del Tredici (quoted in my title) as he extols the “emergent forest” and “spontaneous vegetation” of the urban jungle, praising plants like dandelions, chicory, mugwort, toadflax, phragmitis, and, of course, ailanthus (as many of you know, the tree of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). Del Tredici contends that no plant is native to the city and commends species that stubbornly emerge from sidewalk cracks, gravel beds, vacant lots, and untended patches of soil for providing carbon sequestration, producing oxygen, feeding wildlife, preventing erosion—and more—without need of any care whatsoever.

His book is called Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast. I plan to buy and read it if only to correctly identify many of the plants I have been pulling as I work on neighborhood beautification projects. I tend to agree that the urban habitat is so different from the original woodlands, that to insist on the historic natives might seen irrelevant. But it will take a lot of mindset changing to make vacant lots filled with the plants he’s talking about seem anything but blighted. And getting rid of them—if nothing else—is definitely beneficial to humans as aerobic exercise.

Still, I also find these plants fascinating, especially the ones that grow out of seemingly completely inhospitable surroundings. There is something to admire in that.