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Weeds - The Ultimate Survivors

Leave a patch of soil for a few weeks and you are sure to find an assortment of weeds. These hardy pioneers of the plant world manage to find a home in the most inhospitable places. Cracks in concrete, dry areas around buildings, and of course in all pathways.

I grew up with some of the most hostile weeds within the orchards and vineyards in South Australia. My greatest fear was Innocent weed or Spiny burr-grass (Cenchrus pauciflorus). This noxious weed starts off as a harmless soft grass, but once the round burrs or seeds are produced, sharp curved spines will attach to clothing and flesh. Trying to remove a seed often resulted in part of the spine becoming imbedded under the skin. Hand harvesting grapes infested with innocent weeds is an experience never forgotten.

There were many other unpleasant weeds capable of causing injury. Three- cornered Jack, Caltrop and Bathurst Burr all had spiny seed. The most annoying weed we called “Love Grass” never caused injury, but the small seeds would stick to clothing and be almost impossible to remove. Socks never lasted long when this grass produced seed.

Many battles were held against invading Couch grass, and until modern herbicides were developed we always lost! One of the prettiest weeds "Soursob”or Oxalis provided lasting memories- fields of bright yellow flowers in winter and spring. Cultivation simply spread the small underground bulbs and we learnt to live with this attractive resident.

Weeds are unwelcome because they rob crops of water, nutrients and sunlight. Some cause injury to animals and others clog implements making them difficult to operate. Weed seeds contaminate grain crops lowering their value. They are spread by wind, water and machinery. Birds and other animals help to spread weed seeds over large areas. No wonder they have had such a bad reputation!

Having unpleasant memories of weeds resulted in my biggest surprise since purchasing my hobby farm. Most of the weeds found are quite tame when compared to the ones I grew up with on the orchard. I have actually become fond of these weeds, as they are able to survive the current drought. They are providing me with free organic matter for mulching around the young windbreak trees. They are also keeping the soil cool and preventing soil from blowing away.

The most outstanding of these survivors forms a thick matt, hence it’s common name “Carpet weed”. It has an incredibly deep root system and can tolerate very salty soil. This native of coastal areas around Melbourne (Frankenia pauciflora) has become a life saver on the hobby farm.

Some of my current weeds include the pretty Gazania and Soursob, a much more sedate couch grass and only one farm thug, the African boxthorn.

Weeds have now become friends rather than foes.

This article on weeds is taken from Alf's Hobby farm site at

About the Author: Ben provides assistance and consultancy to real and virtual estate owner in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. His works include Alf's My Hobby Farm in Australia. Ben is also in the process of helping Alf to publish an eBook on his writings on hobby farming.

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