When I was a kid, my neighbourhood friends and I liked to play ‘down by the creek’ which was situated at the end of our street. This was a place of wonderful explorations, discoveries and play away from grown-ups. It was an area full of a variety of trees to climb and swing from, flowing water, homemade rafts, eels, plants and – weeds.
One weed I liked was Tradescantia or as it is also known Wandering Willie and Wandering Jew. Wandering Willie was a spreading, glossy leaved plant with small, white flowers which grew under the shade of the trees. It acted as a great cushion if we jumped into it. If you picked a small bit to take home and put into a marmite jar of water, you would very soon see white roots start to grow and the small bit of weed would quickly grow more bits that drooped in green cascades from the window-sill. No wonder it is such a noxious weed in New Zealand today.
Another weed down at the creek was the onion weed. This had dark spear-like leaves and pretty, white flowers that bowed daintily. They reminded me of Snowdrops. I recall picking a lovely bunch of onion flowers one day on the way home from school for my mother thinking she would love them. She didn’t and threw them behind the hen house. However, I was bemused when our new neighbours, who had recently arrived from another country, loved them and produced a whole garden full of glorious onion flowers. In adulthood I learned that the bulbs of these weeds can be eaten, added to salads and casseroles. I haven’t tried them myself. Once again, these weeds are considered noxious in New Zealand.
Lastly, my favourite weed from childhood days was the Dandelion. How beautiful they were with their bright, golden, yellow flowers and who hasn’t played the ‘What time is it?” game, blowing the seed-heads and counting the time, ‘One o’clock. Two o’clock’ until all the seed parachutes had blown into the wind. We thought that if we picked the flowers, we would wet the bed but I don’t know from where this thinking came. We soon learned it wasn’t true anyhow. I was also told that the plant got rid of warts. I had a patch of warts on my knees, so I picked a dandelion and rubbed the milky substance from the stem onto the warts. They disappeared so I thought that was pretty good although it could have been co-incidence. As an adult I learned that the roots could be made into a coffee substitute. I don’t know if the Dandelion is considered as noxious as Wandering Willie or Onion weeds, but they certainly aren’t welcome in many people’s gardens.
Weeds aren’t popular, that’s for sure, but they did form part of my childhood and help develop an interest in plants and nature. I am grateful to them for that.