Weeds in My Garden: Observations on Some Misunderstood Plants.
by Charles B. Heiser
pub. Timber Press, 2003
Harback, 247 pages, £16.99
ISBN 0 88192 562 4
It is probably true to say that most people regard weeds as bothersome; particularly gardeners who reach for the nearest gas-propelled flamethrower or can of weed-zap. Not so Charles Heiser, a botantist who spent many years teaching at Indiana University, and who began to record the weeds which appeared over the years in the campus' botantical studies field, his 'garden'.
Heiser begins with that one might term the 'philosophical' aspects of weeds: what is a weed?, why they are successful, some good points about weeds, and their control. The rest of the book is all weeds, glorious weeds. There are a good number of old woodcut reproductions taken from Gerard, as well as a couple of dozen colour photographic plates. However, UK readers will find a number of weeds that really only inhabit the US - jimsonweed, ironweed, moonseed, and the American version of the elder, Sambucus canadensis, for example. There are also occasional differences in nomenclature. For example, Heiser refers to wood sorrel as Oxalis corniculata, a yellow flowered plant which is known to us in the UK as yellow sorrel, while we refer to the white the flowered Oxalis acetosella as wood sorrel. For well-versed plant and weed hunters such matters will be of little trouble, but it is something to be aware of.
Each of the plants dealt with follows a set format, looking first at the derivation of the name, time and place of growth, a physical description of the plant, and then its virtues. That word itself conjours up memories of old medical herbals, where the writers and quacks of past times waxed lyrical on the efficacy of wierd potions derived from roots, leaves, or whatever. Of course, being a professional, though retired, botanist the author does not fall into such traps and keeps his own descriptions entertaining and informative. A good number of the research sources Heiser draws upon are more modern - as in post-1900 - although there are occasional lapses into the information provided by Gerard back in the 16th century. Still, the overall outcome is informative and entertaining.