Weeds versus ruderals

Nick Greatorex-Davies ngd at ceh.ac.uk
Fri Dec 14 06:32:00 EST 2001


I don't think I have heard - until now - of animal species being referred to as 'weedy species' (i.e. associated with 'weeds'). As I understand it (and according to various dictionary definitions) the term 'weed' applies only to plants, and refers to plants growing where we (humans) don't want them. In practice, or in most peoples minds, this refers to generally short-lived herbaceous plants of disturbed habitats. However trees can also be considered as weeds (e.g. Birch (Betula spp.) growing (sometimes in profusion) in a conifer plantation). As an ecologist I think a much more useful (and neutral) term for these plants is the term 'ruderal'. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ecology defines ruderal as: "a plant, or applied to a plant that is associated with human dwellings or agriculture, or that colonises waste ground. Ruderals are often weeds which have high demands for nutrients and / or are intolerant of competition."  Perhaps "early-successional species of disturbed habitats" would be a good way to describe them. Ruderal is a much more neutral term and does not have the connotation of something being 'bad', unwanted or regarded as rubbish or as a nuisance. Here in the UK we have some rare 'weeds' whose continued existence here is being actively promoted through conservation measures.


Mr J Nick Greatorex-Davies
(Butterfly Monitoring Scheme co-ordinator)
NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
(Formerly the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (ITE))
Monks Wood
Abbots Ripton
Cambridgeshire PE28 2LS  UK

Tel: (+44) (0) 1487 773 381
Fax: (+44) (0) 1487 773 467
E-mail: ngd at ceh.ac.uk 
Website: http://www.bms.ceh.ac.uk 


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