I chose the urban landscape as our focus because it is where I’ve spend most of my life and it is an environment with a surprising abundance of unintentional natural spaces. Instead of nurturing the wild plants that grow in our cities, these plants are eradicated, replaced or at the very least confined and controlled. We create hierarchy between wild native and non-native species. A “weed” is simply an unwanted or displaced plant, and perhaps more importantly a plant that interferes with economic gain or isn’t easily commodifiable. However, these notions are simply a matter of judgment that doesn’t consider the biological efficacy of “weeds”, and certainly shouldn’t be reason enough for extermination. Yes, “weeds” interfere with building, developing and organizing the landscape, but taking a more symbiotic view we see that they also work incredibly hard to add nutrients to the soil, clean carbon monoxide from the air and offer habitat for hundreds of species. In every ecosystem around the world there are species of plants where it is their job to restore soil from all kinds of disturbances. For example these “weeds” are the very types of seedings which start to grow after a devastating forest fire. They are an indicator, a litmus test of what the soil needs for further sustained growth. Their message should not be ignored.
Herbalists often mention that the more prolific and abundant a plant is the more we need it. These plants thrive within the urban landscape because of its consistent disturbance from construction, demolition and pollutants. They quite literally are indignant to the disturbances of city life and in most cases are working to restore the damage done. They are a reminder that life will always find a way. Peter Del Tredici states, in his book Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast, “They are our wild volunteers of remediation... Urban places are complex mixes of the human, the built, the cultivated and the wild. It is important to approach them as a complex whole whose components are seen to contribute to sustainability, health, beauty and function.” We consider a “pristine” wild landscape to be a place were plants grow freely without human influence. Ironically, we have the same process happening in the urban terrain yet we call it unsightly, a sign of neglect, something that is derelict, undesirable and abandoned. Instead of choosing to ignore or eliminate plants we find to be a nuisance, it is better first to understand them. In addition to exploring ecological functionality, Common Knowledge also questions the low aesthetic value we place on these herbs. It is my hope that through an artistic lens we can start to grasp the incredible virtues of these species.
-Alyssa Dennis, founder of Common Knowledge