Environment & Conservation

Stages of Succession

The first year I took my land out of industrial corn/soy production, Butterweed (Packera glabella), Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus), and Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) took over. These aren’t bad plants, in fact they’re all native here. But they showed up uninvited and in large numbers, and at first I was concerned about them. I tried to grow cover crops that year, and the Giant Ragweed was particularly difficult to work around. I mowed once or twice that summer, and I pulled a few weeds here and there, but other than that I didn’t really do anything to reduce the populations of these weedy plants. I was still trying to figure out what to do about these “problems” when they just…vanished. I still have a little daisy fleabane here and there, but it’s not hurting anything. Butterweed and giant ragweed have almost totally disappeared from the land. Do you want to guess where I still find massive amounts of butterweed? In industrial crop fields.

I’m not saying I don’t have weeds. The Earth is going to cover herself with something, and certain plants are more adept at that work than others. My field was a difficult case from the beginning: eroded, nutrient-poor, compacted, waterlogged, bare clay soil. Butterweed, giant ragweed and fleabane seemed to be the only plants who were up for that challenge. I had mixed success with my cover crops, but it didn’t matter in the end. Weeds did the job just fine! When they were finished, they acquiesced to another group of plants. Now I have mostly grasses and goldenrod, dandelion and violet, and lesser amounts of vine and tree volunteers. Even these plants are temporary. It’s another stage of succession in the land’s march back to its highest self. Eventually, these plants will make way for the next stage of growth.

I am contributing to this evolution in my least-intervention, organic way by voting. I vote “no” by mowing selectively so that the plants I don’t want have less chance to reproduce and spread. I vote “yes” by planting seeds and starts of the plants I want more of, and protecting them until they are strong. Sometimes I get my way, and sometimes I don’t. I roll with it. Most of the surprises are happy ones. Birds and squirrels, wind and water have all brought me wonderful free plants that I didn’t know I needed. I’m grateful to be a part of this diverse and unconventional team, and I look forward to the next surprise on this beautiful journey of co-creation.