Observation Series
Weeds - Hidden Gems Among Us

On 17 November 2012, I received an email request to seek my interest in contributing to a Art-Science camp for kids focusing on identifying weeds around the neighbourhood. The term "weed" is a loose term for any unwanted plants. In general, they grow naturally with little help from human being. In some countries, they are considered as pest since they compete with the cultivated crops or if they are introduced (i.e. foreign invaders), compete with the native plants. They can be herbaceous plants, climbers or even shrubs. However, a person's weed may be another person's gem. The value of a plant is in the eyes of the beholders.

In Singapore, weeds are normally treated as wild plants since it is not an agricultural country. The other term used in the same context is "wildflower" although it may not be appropriate when ferns become part of the weed community. Some wildflowers can be really tiny that we may not even be conscious about their existence.

Have you ever notice the panel of common wildflowers below that live among us?

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The first book or booklet that really provides a glimpse of the variety of wildflowers in Singapore was published in 1985 by the Singapore Science Centre titled "A Guide to the Wildflowers of Singapore". It is still on sale as of this writing in November 2012 and its content remains the same. photoSince then, there was no further publication focusing on wildflowers until 2012 when a photo book was published by Jon Boon titled "Little Flower - Singapore Wild Flowers Up Close".

Most of the wildflowers seem to have some use in the herbal medication arena either by traditional medicine practitioners or by ordinary folks who tend to pass around their recipes. It is kind of hard to really verify the medicinal value of wildflowers depending on what is your definition of cure and how cure is measured. There will always be claims of their miracle values.

Regardless of their medicinal claims, like all plants, these wildflowers contribute to the greenery of the surrounding, consuming the carbon dioxide and releasing the much needed oxygen, and provide food and shelter to a thriving community of minibeast. At our doorsteps, they offer us a convenient opportunity to study them closely and learn a lesson or two from them from whichever angles that you may choose.

Some may look rather benign when young or tiny inhabitants of the sidewalk but when allowed to achieve their full potential, may snowball into a gigantic plant. One good example is the fast-growing climber, Mikania micrantha (Mile-a-minute Weed).

Grasses are the most common ground cover in our midst. The grasses that you see along the wayside or in football field are likely to be Cow Grass (Axonopus compressus). A very similar looking grass is the Buffalo Grass (Paspalum conjugatum). The easiest way to separate them is when they flower. Cow Grass seedheads has around 3 spikes while that of the Buffalo Grass are Y-shape. Grasses either belong to the family Poaceae or Cyperaceae.

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Growing among the grasses are small weeds. They tend to lay low which help them to survive the routine grass-cutting exercise. The 3 most common weeds look very similar from the appearance of their leaves. Two of them belong to the genus Lindernia while the third one is from the genus Torenia. The differentiating features are their flowers and fruits. Guess which weed does the flower (in the far right picture) belong to?

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Let us move on the clovers. You have probably heard of 4-leaf clover. So far, I have not seen a clover with 4 leaves except one, although strictly speaking, the one I saw was actually a fern (Marsilea crenata). Below are 3 of the more common 3-leaf clovers available here. Guess which of the clover has a yellow flower (picture in the far right)?

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Besides those weeds that I have shared above, there are much more growing around you that come in different shapes and sizes (e.g. Buttonweeds). The one thing they all have in common is their contribution to the oxygen level of our planet. We should be conscious that when we start clearing land for construction work or other purpose, we are actually eradicating our oxygen factories.

Last updated: 19 November 2012

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