|THE WEED STORY
Over recent years, Woodend Landcare has arranged with the local schools to do annual plantings along the Five Mile Creek. On each occasion, a short talk is given to the children, outlining the reasons for our works. We discuss the benefits of vegetation near the creek and how to go about planting the new plants before helping the students plant crates of local indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses.
There are always questions about why plants like willows and blackberries are considered weeds and need to be removed. We try to explain the concept of what makes a plant a weed and why they need to be controlled. There are lots of environmental experts who can try to explain that, but too often they use a lot of scientific jargon and the message is lost to us ordinary people. So this is an attempt to explain in simple terms what Woodend Landcare believes.
WHAT IS A WEED?
To start with, there are many definitions of “WEEDS”. The simplest one is “a plant that is capable of growing and multiplying more efficiently than the local species”. In other words, a plant that will gradually overpower local plants and eventually eradicate them. We can all see evidence of this in the thickets of gorse and broom around Woodend which have gradually eliminated most of the natural vegetation.
Why is this a bad thing? Well it is not entirely bad – for example gorse and blackberry thickets make good feeding and nesting sites for many birds, including native birds. For that reason, it is good to clear thickets gradually so that native vegetation can take over the same role progressively. Similarly when a large willow tree is to be removed from the creek bank, it is first injected with poison so that its branches don’t become new plants. Once it is dead, it is cut down. The stump is left to rot away over the years while the new native plants take over the role of preventing erosion. Native plants did that for millions of years, so it is a bit hard to accept the argument that we need willows to prevent erosion!
THE RISK OF EXTINCTIONS
But the worst aspect of introduced weed species is that we run the risk of losing some types of local plants entirely. Woodend actually hosts one of these “endangered” species called the Black Gum or Eucalyptus aggregata. This tree only grows around Woodend and if it dies out, we have lost it forever. We can’t just go to the local nursery and buy more if that happens, we have lost the tree and all the life forms that rely on it.
We are still learning about the relationships between plants and animals. We know that some plants need a specific insect to pollinate themselves and survive. We know that some animals, birds and insects also need particular plant species to survive. We need to think about what a terrible thing extinction is. From a purely selfish point of view, many of our drugs are sourced from plants. That plant we are allowing to fade away might just be the plant to cure a major illness one day. How stupid would we be to allow that?
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Controlling weeds is beyond the capacity of the local council. They do what they can with limited resources. No doubt they could do much better if our rates were increased to pay for it, but that would not be popular. Groups like Landcare are also limited as we are just volunteers and there are not enough of us. So we all need to take some responsibility and do something ourselves.
There is plenty of advice available, but a lot is just common sense. Even if you don’t want to wage war on weeds, you can follow some simple steps to at least avoid planting weeds in your garden and making things worse. For example, view with suspicion any plants that produce lots of seed such as some popular garden wattles. Plants producing berries such as blackberries and hawthorn are also likely weed candidates. Birds and other animals often enjoy foreign cuisine and will spread seeds and berries into nearby bushland with devastating effects. Secondly, if you live next to a waterway or even a drain, avoid plants like willows and ivy that will grow easily from cuttings. Willows can grow from one little twig on a damp surface. And finally, watch out for plants with bulbs that seem to be able to pop up again each year without our help. Most bulbs like daffodils and tulips are safe enough, but the bad ones such as angled onion are very tough and hard to eradicate once they take-off.
If you favour a cottage garden, there are thousands of plants you can use that are not weeds. Much of the idea of a cottage garden is to have a riot of the toughest plants all jumbled in together and providing a colourful display most of the year. There is no reason why you can’t have your cottage garden – just take care to avoid the potentially invasive species. And whatever you do, don’t dump your garden clippings anywhere except the transfer station or your compost bin. Lots of weed problems start with dumped garden waste.
Weeds don’t need to be from other continents either and a plant that is considered a weed here is clearly not a weed in its place of origin. So weeds are very specific to local areas and they can be from another country or another part of our country.
So whilst the very best thing you can do for your local environment is to plant only local indigenous plants, you won’t be doing much harm if you just take a bit of care in any other plant species you decide to grow.
Some popular garden plants that can be weeds around Woodend (this is a very incomplete list!)
Acacia pravissima – Ovens wattle
Acacia baileyana – Cootamundra wattle
Willow (most types)