The Naturalist versus the Weed Whacker, part 1, West Indies

I am currently on the small island of Nevis, St. Kitts and Nevis, Leeward Islands, West Indies. My husband and I have been coming here on annual visits for 21 years, this time for four weeks.

The island used to have a severe litter problem along the main road, but, over the years that has been almost entirely eliminated, which is really great. However, this year the verges of the main island road (and some other pieces of public land) look almost uncannily neat and tidy, and that is in large part due to deployment of numerous Weed Whackers, which is more or less a new technique here.

I suppose I should be celebrating this neatness, but I love weeds. I find them very interesting in themselves, not to mention the surprisingly rich range of other wildlife that lives in and among the plants that flourish in open areas which are not completely overgrown, but are nonetheless somewhat neglected -- benign neglect.

The rental house we are staying in has a yard, quite a small yard, that surrounds the house. I spent the first week or two photographing every organism I could find in the yard. That was because I was in a medical CAM boot, and was not allowed to walk around more than a few feet. I did surprisingly well with what I found. There are very few garden plants in the yard, but the weeds were doing well, and many of the smaller weeds were flowering. These supported quite a range of bugs, including providing nectar for at least four species of butterflies.

But then, at the end of those two weeks, the gardener came and weed-whacked everything right down to the ground. Where did all the nice bugs go? Goodbye to the several different species of butterflies that used to cruise the yard and settle on some of the Tridax Daisies.

Alas, alack, the weed whackers. Does the trimming have to be so complete and ruthless?

Posted on May 07, 2018 12:45 AM by susanhewitt susanhewitt


Although my concurrent comment is not is from such a far off place as yours, my local and wonderful park is filled with all the rich spring flowers - spring beauties, violets, dandelions, trout lilies, and on and on. Soon the DPW will come and mow it all away. Sad, I feel!

Posted by sadawolk almost 6 years ago

I do think it is reasonable for some areas to be mown a few times a year otherwise they turn into shrub-land and then woodland. And some plants can survive mowing OK. And the general public needs grassy areas to play on. But still, the amount of mowing needs to be judicious, and some areas such as grass verges on the sides of roads can be allowed to be weed-filled.

Posted by susanhewitt almost 6 years ago

The bane of the botanist! I've been there many times as well Susan, unfortunately. I also read your NYC post about this sort of thing with interest.

On a positive note, roadside cutting of the tall grasses DOES seem to promote Euphorbia (especially sect. Anisophyllum) growth, where otherwise they would have a hard time establishing before the other plants crowd them out. @nathantaylor7583 This is also the case for other prostrate-growing species. I'm not sure how thickly the vegetation was growing at your NYC location, but maybe go back and see what sprouts up there initially and see if there are different species than what you had noted when it was full-blown.


Posted by jaykeller over 5 years ago

When I was at Sul Ross, it was always a struggle to know whether to collect a plant that hadn't been collected on campus to beat the weed-whackers or allow the plants to mature enough to make a decent specimen. It does definitely help the Euphorbias, though, and a lot of other prostrate weedy species. It also helps ensure that the area stays weedy by allowing an area that gets enough disturbance to not become overgrown with trees and shrubs. That being said, the timing is usually pretty terrible in my experience.

Posted by nathantaylor over 5 years ago

I am glad this kind of thing helps Euphorbia species -- "It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good."

I will for sure watch and see what sprouts back in the NYC location, because I am going to the front of the building for PT twice a week, and can easily go round the block and check the back.

I will however be in SoCal from Sept 23rd to Oct 14th. And I have a cataract operation on one eye on Nov 1st.

And off to Sanibel on Dec 5th to 23rd.

Posted by susanhewitt over 5 years ago

And yes, Nathan, thanks for your insight. The weed whacking in northern climes could wait till the the early winter after a few frosts, when everything was pretty much dead anyway.

This weed whacking in the NYC bed will not prevent the Ailanthus saplings from coming back again next year. I confess to having pulled out the Ailanthus seedlings I could reach, but there were some bigger older plants further back that I could not reach.

Posted by susanhewitt over 5 years ago

Good on you for pulling the Ailanthus seedlings. I guess my point is that it knocks the woody vegetation back enough to keep the smaller plants from getting shaded out. I could be wrong, though. New York is distinctively different from West Texas. :-)

Posted by nathantaylor over 5 years ago

I do agree that it makes a difference with a lot of the woody stuff, but Ailanthus is tough to discourage. Although every little bit helps.

Posted by susanhewitt over 5 years ago

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