The Wonder of Weeds

A close up view of grass with a daisy growing in its midst
Photo by Jennie TaylorCredit

This look at the wonder of weeds was inspired by our beautiful exhibition Drawn from Nature: Irish Botanical Art.

Discover the mysterious and surprising qualities of plants that emerge from crumbling buildings, walls, cracks in pavements and the edges of gardens. Let’s start your adventure! 

First of all, what is a weed? 

A weed in its most simple definition is a plant out of place. Sometimes weeds are known as invasive plants, which means that they grow at a rapid rate where they are not wanted. For example, a plant is invasive if it is growing in a field of crops or in a formal garden because it can take up all the nutrients and prevent crops or other plants from growing well. 

Why don't we find out more about these types of plants, and discover if they are a nuisance or simply survivors? Let’s see! 

What you need:

  • A notebook or sheet of paper
  • A pencil, pen or a camera phone 

Step oneLooking!

Take a look outside your window - is there a balcony, a garden, or a street? 

Now, step outside and look closely. Do you see anything that might be growing where perhaps it is not meant to be growing? Does it have leaves? Is it in flower? Take time to observe its features. 

Step two: Recording!

If you have a camera phone, take a picture of what you see - you can also sketch it on a sheet of paper or in your notebook. A sketch can simply be one or two lines describing the shape of its leaves. If you don’t want to sketch, you can jot down a few key words describing the plant, for example: wide leaves, skinny leaves, small white flower. 

Step three: Discovering!

Now that you have found a species growing, you can find out more about what it is. If you have a smart phone, choose an app for identifying plants (there are many to choose from including PictureThis, PlantFinder and PlantSnap), then upload the photo you took and the app will tell you all about the plant, or weed! If you don't have a smart phone, take a look at what you recorded, the details of the plant, its shape, colour and specific features. Once you have this you can easily do some research online to find out more. 

You might discover all kinds of species just outside your door. 

Below you'll find some examples of what we found in a garden, and on the corner of a road - can you spot any of them near you?  

NOTE: If you're a parent homeschooling or a teacher working online, scroll to the bottom of the page for some useful ways to connect this to schoolwork. 

You'll also find a glossary of some of the terms used at the bottom of the page.

Common dandelion
Common dandelion

The Common dandelion is a species of daisy. When it changes into a puffball, each Common dandelion can plant over 5000 seeds, spread by wind. Native to Europe and Asia, it is known as an invasive weed. The Common dandelion symbolises faithfulness and happiness. It produces a large amount of pollen, so bees adore them! Its botanical name is Taraxacum officinale

Also known as: Puff-ball, Irish daisy and the Priest’s crown.

How to identify: 

  • Round yellow flower
  • Leaf blade splits into arrowheads
  • Purplish stems that are upright or lax
Common daisy
Photo of groundsel
Groundsel

The Common daisy is a species of English daisy and it is native to Europe. It has a strong reproductive ability, and its botanical name is Bellis perennisThe daisy symbolises naivety, peace and hope. 

Also known as: Bruisewort, Lawn daisy and Meadow daisy.

How to identify: 

  • Short creeping rhizomes
  • Round or spoon-shaped leaves
  • White ray florets and yellow disc florets

This is Groundsel; its botanical name is Senecio vulgaris. The groundsel is a flowering plant in the daisy family. Native to Europe, it reseeds itself and it can grow as tall as 16 inches. The name Senecio translates as ‘old man'; this refers to how the plant gradually becomes grey and hairy when it is in fruit! The other part of the Latin name—Vulgaris—means ‘usual', ‘common’ or ‘vulgar'.

How to identify:

  • Clusters of cylinder-shaped yellow flower heads
  • Bracts often conceal the yellow flowers
  • Leaves become smaller towards the top of the plant
Kenilworth ivy
Silvergreen bryum moss

Say hello to the Kenilworth ivy! This is one to look out for in wall crevices and footpaths. It's a herb with very small flowers. Its leaves are edible and can be used in salads, though they have quite a bitter flavour! The Kenilworth ivy symbolises protection. Its botanical name is Cymbalaria muralis.

Also known as: Ivy-leaved toadflax, Climbing sailor and Mother of millions. 

How to identify: 

  • Evergreen rounded or heart-shaped leaves
  • Small flowers similar in shape to snapdragon flowers

The Silvergreen bryum moss is a nonvascular plant, which is why it grows across the ground instead of upwards. Its botanical name is Bryum argenteum, and it is found in Europe, North America, the Australian outback and in Antarctica. 

Also known as: Silver moss, Silvery bryum and Silvery thread moss.

How to identify: 

  • When dry, it is silvery-green or whitish green.
  • The upper cells of the leaf surface are an elongated rhomboid shape
  • It appears broader at the base and is dark red to black in colour.
Creeping wood sorrel
Baby's tears

Here is the Creeping wood sorrel captured in flower! It symbolises patriotism, luck and Easter! Its botanical name is Oxalis corniculata

Also known as: Sleeping beauty, and in southern Europe, Wood sorrell is known as Hallelujah, as it blossoms just around Easter. 

How to identify: 

  • Narrow, creeping stem
  • Subdivided leaves into three rounded leaflets 
  • Yellow in flower

Baby’s tears is a species of Soleirolia. Its botanical name is Soleirolia soleriolii. This plant loves moisture and grows close to the ground in mats. Popular in gardens, here we see it on the side of a pavement, clutching to the base of a rock wall. 

Also known as: Mother of thousands, Mind-your-own-business and Angel’s tears

How to identify: 

  • Bright green or yellow leaves
  • Multitudes of tiny white flowers
Photo of an ivy plant
Ivy
Photo of red valerian growing out of the top of a wall
Red valerian

This is Ivy, an invasive plant with strong reproductive ability. Its botanical name is Hedera hibernica, and it belongs to the Araliaceae family. An evergreen climbing plant, its tiny stem roots can cling to walls, trees, cliffs and rocks. During autumn, ivy is a vital food plant of the holly blue butterfly.

How to identify:

  • Climbing plant
  • Evergreen leaves

This is Red Valerian. Remember to look up when you are looking for weeds! Its botanical name is Centranthus ruber. It is a popular plant for gardens; here, we see it growing from the top of a pebbledash wall. Both its leaves and roots are edible. The roots, boiled, are good for soups and the leaves can be enjoyed fresh in salads.

Also known as: Kiss-me-quick, Devil’s beard and Jupiter’s beard.

How to identify:

  • Fuchsia coloured when in flower
  • Oval-shaped leaves with pointed tips

Glossary of terms

Bract: a specialised leaf often found around a flower or a cluster of flowers.

Invasive: alien species that show a tendency to spread out of control.

Rhizomes: a continuously growing horizontal underground stem which puts out sideway shoots and unusually placed roots at intervals.

Florets: one of the small flowers making up a composite flower head.

Foliage: plant leaves collectively.

Nonvascular plant: They lack roots, stems, and leaves, low-growing plants that reproduce with spores, and need a moist habitat.

Saponins: chemicals that can be found in most vegetables, beans and herbs. 


You can also find out more from these great resources:  The Dublin Naturalists’ Field Club | Irish Wildflower Showcase | Biodiversity Ireland

 

Are you at home from school? Are you a parent homeschooling? Are you a teacher working online? 

Then here are some useful ways to connect this to schoolwork. 

Primary School 

Visual art

  • Drawing

Geography

  • A sense of place and space
  • Geographical investigation skills: Observing; Recording & Communicating 
  • Human environments: Living in the local community
  • Natural environments: The local natural environment
  • Environmental awareness and care: Caring for my locality; Environmental awareness; Caring for the environment 

Science

  • Working scientifically: Observing; Recording & Communicating
  • Living Things: Plants & Animals

Suggested follow up activities:

  • Draw and label your weed 
  • Draw a map of your local area and mark where you found your weed

Junior Cycle

Visual art

  • Drawing

Science: Biological world

  • Systems and interactions: Conduct a habitat study; research and investigate the adaptation, competition and interdependence of organisms within specific habitats and communities.
  • Sustainability: Evaluate how humans can successfully conserve ecological biodiversity and contribute to global food production; appreciate the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems.

School resources

 

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