If you have plants popping up in your yard that you didn’t plant, your first instinct may be that it’s a weed. You very well might be right; after all, what are weeds except for unwanted plants? At the same time, it’s possible that you’ve got wildflowers growing on your property. Depending on your view of wildflowers, that could change things significantly.
Wildflowers can do a lot of good for bees and other local pollinators, giving a boost to your local ecosystem and adding some beauty to boot. If the flower is from an invasive species, though, even something useful can cause a lot of harm over time.
Weeds vs. Wildflowers
Some weeds (including the dandelions and clovers mentioned above) produce flowers and are usually frequented by bees and other pollinators. Despite this, they’re still considered weeds instead of wildflowers. So what’s the difference between the two?
The primary difference between weeds and wildflowers is how they grow. Weeds tend to spread once established, growing to consume as many additional resources as they can and spreading their seeds as far as possible. Wildflowers are not as aggressive with their growth, instead growing densely in an area and spreading out from that area at a slower pace. This is why wildflowers are not generally considered competitive with existing plants; they aren’t likely to overrun an area in a short period of time and are much easier to contain to a single area.
Invasive Plant Species
One thing to keep in mind is that both weeds and wildflowers can be considered invasive. For that matter, even some of the plants you buy at nurseries are considered invasive in some regions! An invasive plant species is one that is not native to the area, so other species aren’t able to compete with it as effectively as they would with plants that are native to the area.
This can be very problematic. Invasive species typically have different resource requirements than native species, so as they grow and spread, they may use resources in a way that shifts the balance of the local ecosystem. This shift can be very bad for local species, giving the invader a much stronger competitive advantage for those resources. In some cases, invasive species can actually eradicate native strains from the local area!
So what do you do? Well first, learn to identify local flora! Google can help with this, as can handy apps like NatureGate, which allow you to upload pictures of plants for identification. Once you know what you’re working with, you can either encourage its growth or stop it in its tracks. Recognizing invasive/weed plants early is crucial for stopping them from taking over your yard.