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Weeds: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way We Think About Nature

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Ever since the first human settlements 10,000 years ago, weeds have dogged our footsteps. They are there as the punishment of 'thorns and thistles' in Genesis and , two millennia later, as a symbol of Flanders Field. They are civilisations' familiars, invading farmland and building-sites, war-zones and flower-beds across the globe. Yet living so intimately with us, they have been a blessing too. Weeds were the first crops, the first medicines. Burdock was the inspiration for Velcro. Cow parsley has become the fashionable adornment of Spring weddings.

Weaving together the insights of botanists, gardeners, artists and poets with his own life-long fascination, Richard Mabey examines how we have tried to define them, explain their persistence, and draw moral lessons from them.

One persons weed is another's wild beauty.

339 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 1, 2010

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About the author

Richard Mabey

105 books140 followers
Richard Mabey is one of England's greatest nature writers. He is author of some thirty books including Nature Cure which was shortlisted for the Whitbread, Ondaatje and Ackerley Awards.

A regular commentator on the radio and in the national press, he is also a Director of the arts and conservation charity Common Ground and Vice-President of the Open Spaces Society. He lives in Norfolk.

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5 stars
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52 (5%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 137 reviews
Profile Image for Pam.
413 reviews28 followers
August 21, 2022
Mabey is so good at synthesizing ideas. I also really liked his book A Cabaret of Plants, and although his discussion of weeds is comprehensive enough, Cabaret was even longer and more complicated.

This book is not one that identifies specific weeds, but certainly many individuals come up for discussion. The author shows how many of the things we consider weeds originally came from Mediterranean areas. These “aliens” are now looked upon as perfectly native and of course in the way of imperialism, spread to the Americas as well as other places world wide. The exchanges have gone both ways of course. We live in a very open and accessible time now, so basically plants grow where life is congenial to them and where man has made conditions that suit them.

Mabey wants us to consider if how we have dealt with “undesirable” plants, especially with our excesses in chemical control might just be too much. Are there other ways to deal with weeds that are harmful to crops and wouldn’t a bit of tolerance in our own lifestyle be appropriate?

I love his coverage of history, literature, myth, art, botanical gardens and many, many more topics. Like a number of American readers, I find his use of common names a problem to a degree. He says he uses scientific names as well as common names, but I did not always find that to be true. Early on he mentions fat hen frequently. Eventually I had to look it up—oh, of course—lamb’s quarters (the common name where I live). So, keep the internet handy.

As far as those misbehaving plants go, I try to ignore them as much as possible. My personal bete noir—Poison Ivy and Mimosa—not to be tolerated. Heavy gloves and a good pull are called for. Everyone differs. I noticed one reviewer who loved to see Mimosa come her way. Please don’t move in next to me.
Profile Image for Chris Blocker.
691 reviews158 followers
October 7, 2013
Richard Mabey knows his weeds. Seriously. You know those nutty birdwatchers with their field guides and binoculars—that's Mabey with weeds. Yes, you say, but those birdwatchers go out on field hunts searching for rare birds—so does Mabey with a group of botanical nerds, searching for alien weeds in the refuse of British dumps. When a potential alien weed is found, a whistle is blown, everyone gathers around, photographs are taken, and debate ensues. The weed is then carefully removed, bagged, and a member is chosen to cultivate the weed at home. Mabey knows his weeds.

Because Mabey clearly knows what he is talking about, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Assuming everything he said in this book is true, weeds are pretty amazing. Not only are they incredibly resilient, but they're smart. You thought Little Shop of Horrors was bad, wait until you see what our weeds are working on. Weeds is an excellent foray into the world of weeds. Here you see the weed through the lens of the historian, philosopher, scientist, socioeconomist, poet, and agriculturist.

Weeds are fascinating, but this book lags at times. When a person is truly passionate about a subject, they can easily overdo it. Mabey tells some wonderful stories about weeds, but he also tells ones that are difficult to make it through. Not to mention that introduction. It was over the top. I'm not sure who Mabey was writing for, but it didn't work. The language was incredibly forced. For Mabey's “entrée into the world of plants,” “on the tumuli of the old tips” where “a galaxy of more modest weeds tricked out the compacted layers of plastic and glass that passed for soil,” the “plants felt like comrades in arms, vegetable guerrillas that had overcome the dereliction of the industrial age.” Had the whole book read like those first five pages, I would've thrown it across the room and happily given it one star. Fortunately, Mabey figured out who his readers were and tossed this pomp verbosity into the compost bin.

Personally, I think Michael Pollan is a more engaging writer on the subject, and I recommend his Second Nature to anyone with even the most remote interest in nature. Mabey isn't as engrossing as Pollan, but I think he knows his stuff. He may even know more than Pollan does. And so, I recommend his Weeds to anyone with a deeper appreciation for the subject. It may be what saves you when the triffids finally have their day.
Profile Image for Missy Ivey.
537 reviews29 followers
August 19, 2022
Month of July 2022: Ecology (con’t)

Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants by Richard Mabey (2012). eBook purchased from Amazon for $1.99 on April 26, 2019.

UGHH! Not what I expected it to be at all and quite a brutal read!

If you like poetry and 17th century history, Shakespearian and folk history on weeds, and are from Britain, then you just might like this book and give it a much higher rating. Me? I don’t like it so much. There was only a little bit of information I learned from this book. It’s obvious HE is very informed on ALL the weeds of Britain, and I do admire that, but I don’t like to read them on paper.

Simply put: Weeds are any plants that sabotage our human plans.

I’m not so sure about this author and his “written” words. For example: He spoke of cogon grass. This is a very invasive grass that appeared and invaded the forests of Vietnam after the U.S. sprayed agent orange on them to clear the leaves and brush so the Vietnamese couldn’t hide. The seeds were there all along, but the clearing gave them the opportunity they needed to sprout, grow and spread. The author states that it just RECENTLY appeared in the U.S., mostly in the southern states as some kind of poetic justice. Well, that’s just not true at all. Yes, cogon grass is growing in some southern states. It was first introduced to Louisiana in 1912 and then to Florida in the 1930’s to control erosion and used as a forage crop. Then was used as packing material. This was way before Vietnam. It is still being sold in some nurseries as ornamental, even though the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has banned cogon grass by federal legislation. And, yes, it is nearly impossible to eradicate!

Another point where the author rubbed me the wrong way…he brought it up first, so I get to respond…is the fact that he is obviously anti-Jew and more than likely anti-Christian. He claims, AS IF IT IS FACT, that the tribes of Yahweh rejected the culture of the Middle East and declared themselves the chosen people of a single God. They invented Monotheism, the belief that there is one deity, an all-supreme being that is universally referred to as God. Hmmm! Invented?

Last words and thoughts from the author that I think perfectly describes weeds and that I agree with (p. 289-90):

They are opportunists. They fill the empty spaces of the earth to repair the vegetation destroyed either naturally by fires or floods, or destroyed by humans with aggressive farming and pollution. They stabilize the soil, conserve water loss, bring nutrients back to the surface, and provide shelter for other plants.

Anyway, I’m happy to move onto my next read….



Some weeds with deeper roots contain much higher nutrition than grasses used for grazing animals. For example grasses only contain about 0.4% magnesium, whereas chicory, ribwort plantain and yarrow contain over 1%. Any animal that chews the cud, a ruminant, needs the mineral cobalt, which is 160 times greater in plantains and buttercups than in grass. Dandelion, stinging nettle and thistles have 5 times more copper than grasses and 1-1/2 times more iron. This just shows the importance of some weeds.

KUDZU’s start in the U.S. – It was introduced here from South-East Asia in the 1870’s. In 1876, there was held a Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia with a Japanese garden displaying that country’s native plants, which included kudzu. American’s loved it and started planting it as an ornamental. In 1920, they began selling it as a cattle forage crop. It was then used to help control the ‘Dust Bowl’ in the 1930’s. By 1940, the U.S. government was paying farmers up to $8.00 per acre of planted kudzu. Now, we see our mistake. It’s advance appears to be unstoppable…according to this author. Kudzu can grow a foot in twelve hours. Stands of whole native forests can quickly disappear, choking them out. Kudzu reaches up to heights of 90 feet or more. He claims kudzu now covers over 2 million acres of our forests. But, according the Smithsonian article (see link below), kudzu has only overtaken 227,000 forest land. Other sources are inflating kudzu’s invasion and claiming it is overtaking at a rate of 150,000 acres a year. But, the Forest Service claims it is actually only overtaking no more than 2,500 acres a year. Now we have the Japanese kudzu bug that has found its own way here and is quickly destroying the kudzu vine.

According to the Smithsonian article, the scare hype comes from two sources that are even used by professional and scholarly people: 1) a small garden club publication [what small garden club?], and two popular how-to books…a kudzu craft book [?] and a culinary/healing guide book [“The Book of Kudzu: A Culinary and Healing Guide” by William Shurtleff (1985)]. Kudzu is officially outlawed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. YET, here in the South, (according to this book by Mabey…which now I know may not be true), kudzu is still being used for controlling erosion. I haven’t found proof of this in writing yet.

Kudzu seems to be more prominent growing in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia where it might truly appear to be the “vine that ate the South”. I’ve never seen it around here, maybe in Louisiana once while on a drive. If it ever makes its way here, I’ll definitely utilize it as food or whatever (no need to look into that yet since it's not found around here) and would love to learn to harvest stems for basket weaving. Grazing animals keeps the vine in check. Otherwise, it will grow out of control, much like the Texas native Mustang Grape Vines or the Frost Grape Vines, which I thought was kudzu, and has grown so fast and covered our whole hill of elderberries in the back five in just this one summer.

Smithsonian Magazine article: “The True Story of Kudzu, the Vine that Never Truly Ate the South” (link):


MIMOSA TREES - Good for wetlands, but considered invasive. Has taken over 30,000 acres of Britain’s wetlands. They do pop up from time to time around here and can be seen hovering over the bayou. They have beautiful pink blooms. Our neighbor has one in the middle of her yard. It’s beautiful.
Profile Image for Sophy H.
1,246 reviews60 followers
July 2, 2020
A fabulous book by Mr Mabey.

Who knew that weeds could be so fascinating with a veritable backstory for each variety.

Our garden is admittedly "wild" in many places, purely because we can't be bothered to mow too much of it!! Watching the number of wildflowers and weeds which proliferate between the wild grasses is quite something, especially when said weeds harbour moth larvae, dragonflies, housing for mice, butterflies, and many other creatures.

Funnily enough, of Buddleia, which Mabey states is an "immigrant" weed, I planted and nurtured a dark rich purple variety which has only just about started to flower after 2 years. The wild buddleia which presumably birds have pooed through onto the gravel path is now monstrously proliferating without any human intervention or nurturing whatsoever! It just goes to show, nature will do what nature wants to do!

My favourite statement of Mabey's in the book:-

"An organism exists for no other reason than it is able to, and can find an opportunity to do so. The wonderful, almost transcendental thing about life on is that in order to so exist, organisms must relate to each other and to the earth itself, and therefore find, if not a purpose, something close to a role. Weeds'...... fill the empty spaces of the earth, to repair the vegetation shattered naturally for millions of years..........".

Exactly Mr Mabey, exactly.
Profile Image for Laurie.
956 reviews38 followers
September 23, 2011
‘Weeds’ is not a gardening book, not a book to tell you how to eradicate the wretched things from your lawn nor one to tell you how to identify them. ‘Weeds’ is a history of weeds, of how plants come to be thought of as weeds, of how society reacts to them, of how they move, spread and adapt. It’s history, ecology and sociology added to the botany.

Mabey discusses how the concept of ‘weed’ started (probably at the same time as agriculture did), how weeds evolve and seem to outwit humans, why a plant is a weed in one place of the world and not in another, what weeds give back (hard to believe, but in the right setting, they do), the use of weeds medicinally, weeds in literature and poetry, how railways spread weeds all over Great Britain, and why almost any non-native plant seems to become a weed in Australia. The book is a very interesting read, forcing one to look at all sides of the concept of ‘weed’. If you like the kind of writing Bill Bryson does, you’ll like Mabey.
Profile Image for CHERYL.
9,300 reviews399 followers
September 13, 2018
Really really needs illustrations. I spent far too much time googling for images. There are chapter art pieces, but they don't actually always have to do with the the species that is the 'hook' of focus for the chapter. If I'd known there was a glossary of Latin names in the back, I could have found images more effectively (given the ridiculous diversity of common names many wildflowers, grasses, and other small weeds have). Or if I'd been able to read the book just for the history, themes, and principles, I could have skipped knowing what plants he was talking about. Or if I were English, or had seen his documentaries, I'd already know them. As is, I think I liked the text and found things of interest in it, but I'm more bemused than anything.

The main thing that anyone needs to know is that human acts create weeds. Disturbed lands, especially those that have had their existing ecology disturbed as well as the earth itself, are the most inviting for both native opportunists and non-native invaders. And our efforts to eradicate them simply encourage them to find ways to survive... for example low-lying dandelions in lawns. It's an arms race, just like the one between bacteria and antibiotics.

I do want to read at least some of Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery by John Clare.

Darwin reportedly joked to Asa Gray about the pervasiveness of British weeds in N. America, and the scarcity of Amer. weeds in England, "Does it not hurt your Yankee pride that we thrash you so confoundedly?" Gray's wife responded that American weeds were "modest, woodland, retiring things; and no match for the intrusive, pretentious, self-asserting foreigners." Mabey says this is "both witty and scientifically spot-on."

And here's all that we get to answer the question that I thought would be the central premise of the book: "And weeds are the very stuff of life for insects. Brimstone butterflies gather nectar from early buttercups. The caterpillars of small tortoiseshell, peacock, and red admiral feed on nettle leaves. And to the question, 'What are weeds for?' one answer might be, 'Moths.'" He goes on to list many species that feed on dock. And that's about it.

Not a bad book, but not recommended.
Profile Image for Skye.
175 reviews
September 12, 2017
Fascinating investigation of the cultural significance of weeds. Very much a humanities text rather than sciences. Lost a star for some historical generalisations and medieval bashing, but still highly recommended.
Profile Image for Matt.
526 reviews10 followers
January 21, 2019
You know those old white men (OWMs) that are convinced they're experts on everything, regardless of whether or not they actually know shit? Yeah, that's pretty much Richard Mabey.

It's pretty clear from even the first chapter of this book that a) Mabey doesn't actually know the definition of a weed, b) doesn't know shit about ecosystems, c) cannot comprehend the damage invasive species incur, d) is in love with himself.

This entire book could be summed up thusly: "I'm Richard Mabey, I'm in love with myself, and here you can listen to me ramble about plants for 300 pages despite the fact I know nothing about them."

Quick tip, Dick: If you don't actually know what you're talking about, maybe don't write a book about it? Gerald Manley Hopkins, Ralph Waldo Emerson*, dead white poet, dead white poet: None of them knew shit about plants. So why are they frequent sources?

You could have, I don't know, actually talked to some botanists, some wildlife biologists, some of those people that actually make their living dealing with noxious and invasive weeds. I know the idea of expert knowledge in any field is mostly dead (which is why people are now taking the world of dumbass celebrities insisting that vaccines cause autism rather than say, doctors or actual medical studies, for instance), but you could have at least considered it. Or you could prattle on for 300 pages about how great these plants are without ever really considering any of the consequences (except in brief passing here and there) of these plants having been introduced in places where they are not naturally controlled (because they no longer have their natural population checks of predators and other historic competing plants) and where they outcompete the plants that have historically lived there, the plants upon which whole food cycles depend.

To pretend that all of this is natural—rather than the result of humans repeatedly introducing things in places where they shouldn't be, repeatedly fucking over our earth—is the definition of short-sighted privilege, but hey, good for you, buddy, you'll be dead soon enough and you made enough money off writing bullshit about how these weeds are pretty and we should just accept them. Good for you, I guess, since nothing matters and the world is a dumpster fire, anyway?

[1 star for all the suckers he convinced a) he knew things, b) he could write, and c) he should be published. This was complete mediocre-white-man-masquerading-as-expert rubbish and I feel dumber for having given it a chance.]

*If you quote Emerson, Thoreau, Muir, etc—even if only in a fake pseudo-science context—to help you make your outdoor ethics argument, I'll be forced to believe that you a) have no critical reading comprehension, b) likely didn't actually read or understand any of their work, and c) need to be Thoreau-n off a bridge. And I'm so sick of Mabey's favorite Emerson quote: "What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." First off, Emerson wasn't a fucking botanist. Second, if your entire argument for a plant is "someday we'll figure out how to use it," fuck you. I just can't even.
Profile Image for Graychin.
758 reviews1,797 followers
August 23, 2012
Richard Mabey takes us from weeds' medieval double-employment in sympathetic magic and the theological Doctrine of Signatures, to the cutthroat world of 17th-century soldier-herbalists like Nicholas Culpeper, to John Ruskin’s strange disgust at the idea of photosynthesis (reducing flowers to mere “gasometers”), to the unexpected botanical marvels of London’s WWII bomb craters, and finally to dystopian science-fiction futures when human beings and all their works are remorselessly consumed by a tsunami of kudzu.

Along the way we feast on a vernacular glossary matched only by that of the Lepidoptera, plants with names like gallant soldier, love in idleness, henbane, fat-hen, shepherd’s purse, pellitory-of-the-wall, stinking mayweed, giant hogweed, yellow rattle, self-heal, and welcome-home-husband-though-never-so-drunk. Mabey introduces us to “species that relish beheading,” an alfalfa seedling that sprouts “in the moist warmth of a patient’s eyelid,”plants with “leaves smelling of beef gravy,” and “the notorious Atheist’s Fig” that sprouted from the coffin of a blasphemer.

Weeds, Mabey reminds us, are simply plants in places we’d rather they weren’t. “A tendency to weediness in a plant is as much a matter of opportunity as a fixed character trait.” And in their metamorphic qualities, their talent for endurance, rabid opportunism, and capacity of exploiting and adjusting themselves to the environment, and the environment to themselves, “the species they most resemble,” says Mabey, “is us.”
Profile Image for trovateOrtensia .
229 reviews219 followers
September 29, 2017
Il libro è serio, nel senso che l'autore è un botanico e quindi sa di cosa parla.
In quanto profana, dotata al più di pollice verde a fasi alterne, a me interessava soprattutto la linea argomentativa di partenza, cioè che il motivo per cui una pianta di qualsivoglia tipo venga definita come "erbaccia", o pianta infestante, è di tipo culturale: in un dato periodo della storia, in un certo ambiente, in presenza di una certa idea di natura (per esempio intesa come giardino, orto, cioè molteplicità di piante collazionate da uomini) alcune piante diventano "infestanti", ma non lo sono in assoluto.
L'autore mette in luce inoltre, e anche questo ho trovato interessante, come il concetto di "erbaccia" sia appunto spregiativo già nella definizione, cioè dotato di connotazioni morali che però sono umane ed estranee alla natura. Nessuna pianta, in sé, è "erbaccia".
Poi il libro è molto tecnico, e scende nel dettaglio sui vari tipi di piante cosiddette infestanti, con dettagli tassonomici e botanici che mi hanno interessato meno.
Profile Image for Mila.
687 reviews32 followers
October 18, 2017
I like that Mabey knows that I'm going to "Google Image" Albrecht Durer's painting Large Piece of Turf, 1503. I like the black and white drawings at the beginning of each chapter. I love the strange chapter titles: Thoroughwort, Adonis, Knotgrass, Waybread, Self-heal, Love-in-idleness, Gallant-soldier, Burdock, Grelda, French Willow, Triffid, The Shoreditch Orchid. I like that he included a "glossary of plant names" because British common names for plants are different than ours, for e.g. fat-hen Chenopodium album is what I know as lamb's quarters. I like the way he reveals how weeds have been portrayed, from Genesis to Shakespeare and how they grow from Flanders Fields to Vietnam to Detroit to the dump (tip). And now to watch "The Day of the Triffids" (it's on YouTube).
Profile Image for Novel Nymph.
398 reviews68 followers
February 3, 2020
I thought this book would go into more depth about the weeds themselves, but it was kinda just a book that questioned why we call weeds weeds.
Profile Image for Juliet Wilson.
Author 15 books42 followers
March 5, 2013
This is a brilliant, fascinating examination of the relationships between humans and plants, specifically those plants that we consider to be weeds.

Richard Mabey is one of the UK's greatest nature writers and in this book examines all aspects of the cultural history of weeds:

* how plants move from one place to another and why often a mild mannered plant becomes a menace when transported to a different location with a different ecology.

* how agricultural weeds have co-evolved with crop species

* how many weeds are actually useful as food sources or for other purposes

* how weeds have taken advantage of our mistreatment of the environment - how in fact we have made weeds the problem that they have become.

He also explores the role of weeds in art and literature.

Although written primarily from a UK perspective, the book also considers weeds around the world. It is beautifully written, thought provoking, full of fascinating facts and a must-read for anyone interested in our relationships with plants.
Profile Image for Emma.
68 reviews22 followers
May 21, 2012
If you like Mabey you will like this book but apparently I am not a fan.
I fail to see how knowing that there is a dock plant in a painting of a lion killing a horse and other such tediousness enriches one's life. Thin on biology, lots of fluff with poorly structured arguments and has put me right off reading his other books. I may just give this book away to someone who would actually like it.
Profile Image for Colleen.
1,092 reviews8 followers
September 23, 2017
Loved this book. Sort of a biography of weeds, in a way, or at least of the way some weeds have intersected with humans. I wish there had been photos, as so many of the weeds were truly beautiful. I kept my iPad handy, for reference. The uses of plants by man, and the abuses, and the likely future were all explored. Really enjoyed it. Highly recommended
Profile Image for Cristina.
740 reviews33 followers
March 2, 2018
Anni fa partecipai a una uscita per la raccolta di piante selvatiche a fini mangerecci. Ricordo soprattutto che la nostra guida disse che oltre l'ottanta per cento delle erbe che togliamo dall'orto sono non solo commestibili, ma persino più nutrienti del radicchio che coltiviamo.
Questo libro ricorda un po' quell'affermazione, anche se tratta il tema da botanico e giardiniere e non da orticultore. Mi è piaciuta molto la disanima su cosa sono le erbacce e su come alle piante questa definizione venga appioppata a seconda di quanto ci sono utili o fastidiose. E dato che lavoro in un posto in cui molto si parla di piante e specie aliene veder trattato l'argomento in maniera tutto sommato divulgativa è stato un piacevole diversivo. Unica pecca - ma dato che l'ho letto sul reader è inevitabile - mancano foto e illustrazioni delle varie piante citate. Così l'ho dovuto leggere con internet sempre attivo.
Enciclopedica la conoscenza dell'argomento da parte dell'autore (anche le tante citazioni letterarie sono interessanti). A volte tanta competenza un filo annoia. Tutto sommato tranquillizzanti le conclusioni finali.
Profile Image for LibraryCin.
2,255 reviews46 followers
May 10, 2018
This is mostly a history of plants that may be considered weeds – basically, plants that are somewhere where a human doesn’t want it to be. It looks at how they travel, plants that were used medicinally, how they (re)populate decimated areas. He looks at how they’ve been viewed in history, including in literature, and more.

It was ok. Some parts were interesting, and others were dry. I probably tuned out a lot when he was looking at literature (except “In Flanders Fields”, which has more meaning). I still love the idea of the book, though!
Profile Image for Kate Haymes.
13 reviews
July 24, 2021
Plants, history and literature, all the things I like!
3.5, would have been a 4 if it had reference pictures for none botanists. Spent a lot of time googling them.
Profile Image for Sarah.
723 reviews8 followers
January 21, 2021
Didn't quite make 4 stars, but nearly. But awarded 4 stars in the end because I shall keep this book around and dip into it again. Lots of interesting information but a lot of it has to be taken on trust... or with a small pinch of salt. I love the way it has made me actually look up the actual weeds in my garden. Most of them I do know but some of them I just know by my own names and had no idea what the rest of the world calls them.Some of the other reviews made me laugh with complaints that english common names rather than american ones are used throughout most of the book. Weeds have so many local names that I had to look up a lot of them despite being english myself - and it just added to my own enjoyment.

Second time around I was surprised how little I remembered from the first time. So I enjoyed it all over again. However I think I'll look for something more botanical for next time.....
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,205 reviews17 followers
July 11, 2013
I read this one for Book Club, and I can honestly say that I might not have finished it except for that reason. It's not that it's a terrible book - it's that it's very dry. I enjoyed the sections on weeds in Shakespeare's writing and the poppies of Europe after WWI. I also liked the discussion of the medicinal and cultural value of the weeds. But, without illustrations or maps, it was difficult to imagine the diversity (and to see why some people's weeds are others' enjoyment).

Overall, the author's discussion was valuable. I probably do come away from the book with a more positive feeling about weeds than when I began. In the end, I might have weeded out a few sections of the book that made it just a shade too long.
1 review14 followers
July 13, 2012
Love it; plan to buy it for permanent re-read shelf (and for my B&B guests). Unlike the Flora Britannica, ed. by Mabey, Weeds addresses those in the US, not just the UK. (Loved Flora Britannica, too).
Profile Image for Alex Sarll.
5,770 reviews231 followers
May 29, 2021
A charming wander through an ill-defined category, fascinated by its inhabitants but also by the paradoxes of the whole concept. Several plants once considered weeds are now protected; conversely, such modern scourges as giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed and kudzu were all originally deliberate introductions, whether for ornamental or practical reasons. And even when it's not deliberate, the likes of rosebay willow-herb have still developed in symbiosis with a humanity that's sceptical of them, hitching a lift to new territories on our trousers or, more often than you might think, our trains (a process that was happening all around me as I read Chapter 10 on a rural rail platform, flurries of airborne seeds filling the air). It's equally good for high-level consideration of a long and vexed relationship, and fascinating little tit-bits (tumbleweed wasn't actually present in America's West until 1870, well after the cowboy's heyday, so its presence as Western cliche is even more false than the equally fixed image of the Ripper stalking London in the fog). Despite his place in the nature writing pantheon, and though I'm sure I've encountered Richard Mabey articles and TV shows before, this is the first of his books I've read, and now I can absolutely see why he's so well-regarded. Although Weeds could really have done with colour illustrations, instead of just black-and-white sketches as chapter frontispieces. Yeah, I know nowadays we all have Google Image Search in our pockets, but it brings one out of the lovely flow of reading through this like Mabey's companion on a mosey through the verges and sidings.
Profile Image for Anne.
956 reviews9 followers
October 28, 2018
I can't wait to see how many, if any, other book club peeps finished this one. Which is to say I enjoyed it quite a bit but that I'm a bit skeptical that it is to the taste of most people in book club. I enjoyed the calm, inquisitive tone of the book - the author definitely is not a hater of the weeds! Not every chapter was a thriller, but there were definitely enough weedy nuggets of fun to get me through (chapter 5 on weeds used in heath care and chapter 11 on triffids, er apocalyptic weeds, in particular).

I did remove a half star due to the total lack of graphics. Sheesh. Would it kill a publisher to spend some money to give us some visuals? This was one of the few nonfiction books I wish I'd read in electronic format so I could more easily look up what all these millions of weeds look like.

3.5 stars

Post book club meeting update: I was the only one who read it all let alone enjoyed it. But I know most others at least tried to read it so A+ for effort!
Profile Image for Infamous Sphere.
211 reviews10 followers
November 12, 2019
Ooh this book was just great. Makes you want to get out into the garden, stroll in woodlands the world over, sketch, kneel down and take a photo of the toadflax in Hungary, in Canada, in Finland, cook nettles, forage, paint. I love the useful weed, and the weird one, and the interesting one. Realised that the weeds growing in my Australian vegetable patch were scarlet pimpernel (and was thoroughly unimpressed at how tiny and meek the scarlet pimpernel turned out to look.) It's for a niche audience - the kind of person who'll read a wild food guide to a country they don't even live in - but it just so happens that person is me.
Profile Image for Amber.
1,968 reviews
April 28, 2020
I really enjoyed this book, though it really needed pictures of weeds - particularly for us outside of the UK and/or unfamiliar with the weeds he was discussing.

I appreciated how he looked at the various aspects of weeds throughout the years; weeds as invaders, as muses, as our new neighbors that are not going anywhere.
Profile Image for Elenapetulia.
124 reviews13 followers
June 13, 2021
Gradevolissimo. Piante, aneddoti, bellezza e vita, insieme alla follia di certi umani.
Profile Image for Kate.
Author 1 book27 followers
June 2, 2020
After reading this, I've come to the inevitable realization that I'm not profoundly interested in the history of the weeds of England. That being said, it has its moments.
Profile Image for Ettore1207.
387 reviews
August 3, 2017
E' un'opera affascinante, adatta ad ogni tipo di lettore, nonostante il titolo possa far pensare ad un libro per pochi. Certo, è ancor più affascinante se si ama la natura ed il mondo vegetale. L''autore sembra possedere una coltura sterminata in materia, ma ha saputo tenersi lontano dal tecnicismo e quindi la lettura è scorrevole e direi quasi avvincente. Egli ci mostra in un'ottica completamente nuova quelle piante che riteniamo "erbacce". E' difficile dire cos'è un'erbaccia: la definizione è antropocentrica, dato che sono ritenute erbacce quelle piante che crescono dove (e quando) noi non vogliamo. Alcune erbacce di oggi non lo erano nel passato. Chissà in futuro? Esse sabotano i progetti degli esseri umani, sottraggono nutrimento alle colture, rovinano le divine visioni di architetti del paesaggio, infrangono codici di comportamento, offrono nascondigli sicuri agli sfaccendati.
E' davvero così? No, ed il libro ci spiega il perché con mille esempi e argomentazioni. E dal modo di vivere delle erbacce si può perfino trarre qualche insegnamento morale. Oppure avrà ragione la fisico-teologia, secondo la quale "le erbacce hanno una duplice utilità: dimostrano l'abilità di Dio come ingegnere botanico, e al tempo stesso costituiscono una salutare mortificazione dell'arroganza umana"?
Vi sono riflessioni sul rapporto fra uomo e natura, citazioni, innumerevoli personaggi e riferimenti al mondo letterario e dell'arte, e tanti aneddoti e descrizioni di eventi avvenuti in ogni tempo (dalla preistoria fino ai giorni nostri) ed in ogni parte del mondo, spesso riguardanti la migrazione delle erbacce a lunga distanza e la colonizzazione di luoghi nuovi. Anche la nostra Italia ha contribuito::
Un analogo esodo di erbacce dall’Italia avvenne con le opere dello scultore danese Bertel Thorwaldsen. Alla morte, avvenuta a Roma nel 1844, le opere dell’artista furono trasportate a casa sua, a Copenaghen. Quando le casse, imballate con ogni cura, furono riaperte, dalla paglia cadde una pioggerella di semi e l’anno seguente in giro per la proprietà spuntarono venticinque specie italiane, in gran parte piante infestanti delle coste del Mediterraneo. Alcune si adattarono all’habitat di Copenaghen, altre furono curate e coltivate appositamente in un giardino dedicato alla memoria di Thorwaldsen.
Riguardo alle citazioni letterarie, eccone una meravigliosa di Ruskin sul papavero:
Siamo soliti considerare il papavero un fiore rustico, ma in realtà di tutti i fiori di campo esso è il più trasparente e delicato [...] il papavero è vetro dipinto, che splende più luminoso che mai quando il sole brilla attraverso i suoi petali. Ovunque lo si veda - in controluce o in piena luce - pare sempre una fiamma e scalda l'aria come un rubino di vetro soffiato,
Purtroppo mancano le illustrazioni, almeno nella versione ebook (in quella cartacea non so). Lo ritengo un difetto del tutto trascurabile, dato che notoriamente le immagini vengono rese malissimo dai lettori di ebook. Ovviamente ho supplito con internet, utilissimo anche per approfondimenti riguardo a opere d'arte, autori, edifici, luoghi ecc. citati nel testo.
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