The Will to Live

February 17, 2014

During this time of year many lawns around the country are either covered in snow or are dormant and take on that lovely, brown, dead color.  My yard is no exception.  The nice Bermuda grass is in hibernation and is nothing but brown.  But there seems to be life continuing despite the occasional freezing temperatures.  I speak of weeds, oh glorious weeds.  With a little rain they have begun to shoot forth across the grass.  I’ve attempted to eradicate the suckers with different treatment products and excessive manual labor, but to no avail, they keep on trucking back.  What adds insult to injury is it’s a whole new batch, some I’ve never seen before.  They’re green, healthy, and thriving as the flowers and vines have all but withered away.

I walked across the grass one day in bare feet (since it doesn’t make sense to put on shoes),  I figure there is nothing to injure me in my yard.  For the most part I’m right.  The weeds in my yard are fluffy things, or so I thought.  I already finished off the last of the sand burs that riddled my lawn (silly me, this is Texas).  As I put the trash in the trash can, wham!, I feel a jab in the sole of my foot.  I look down to find a peculiar thing sticking from my foot.  I know this thing well, I’ve fought it a long time.  It looks like something from medieval times.  It could even pass as a torture device, and it has bested me again.  It is the dreaded puncture vine, or Tribulus terrestris for the botany nerds.  It has lived up to its name, it has punctured my foot, again.

800px Starr 030612 0067 Tribulus terrestris
Photo by Forest & Kim Starr

What makes this so amazing is this isn’t even the puncture vine’s original seed.  The original one looks like a Maltese cross with spikes (shown to the right)  It too is a nasty sucker but doesn’t leave as much of a punch as what is inside.  In that casing is the nutlet of the plant that is now lodged in my foot.  When the original pod falls to the ground and decomposes the nutlet is left over in the dirt to start the process over again, and so I can step on it. 

Why does this thing hurt so bad?  Well take a look at the nutlet and you can see why, and you can see why it’s called a puncture vine.

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Puncture vine nutlet

Now why am I reliving my trials and tribulations over these weeds that I probably will never get rid off?  Other than to rant how frustrating is to deal with these things, I’m struck by the common weed’s willingness to live.  The flowers don’t have this same trait.  You have to treat them like a pampered celebrity, and even then they go off and wither away (also like a pampered celebrity).  Weeds, on the other hand, can handle the competition, need far less nutrients, and can live in almost any soil condition.  While flowers have their beauty, weeds have their longing for survival and are ready for a fight.

It could be worse.  The weeds in my lawn are not as invasive as some other species.  Take Japanese Knotweed, for example.  It was brought over from Asia and now causes tremendous problems in the UK and in the U.S.  It causes structural damage and wipes out anything in its path.  On top of that it is extremely hard to eradicate.  Japanese Knotweed packs an added bonus too.  It’s roots contain a Asian laxative in a concentrated form called emodin.  So don’t eat it.  Another example is Kudzu, also from Japan and Asia, which just simply takes over everything.  It was introduced in the U.S. in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.  It was supposed to be a new ground cover to control soil erosion, instead it earned nicknames such as the “Green Menace”, and “the vine that ate the South”.  While these are invasive species, you have to hand it to them, they know how to thrive.

I remember a Garfield cartoon once that had Garfield sitting beside a beautiful flower in a pot and a weed in another pot.  He looked at each one thoughtfully before stomping the flower into oblivion.  With the flower crushed and the pot in pieces and the weed standing alone he says, “Weeds just have a greater will to live.”  So listen to Garfield and be like a weed; have the will to adapt, thrive, and handle any situation.


About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of great trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium. I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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