Walking with the weeds

I wanted to share a brief reflection on the weed walk I led with GreenThumb last week. The walk was incredibly joyful, and we were surrounded by powerful plant allies that grow spontaneously and mostly unnoticed in the midst of the hustle and bustle of New York City.

Our walk began in East Harlem’s Pa’lante Community Garden, steps from Tito Puente’s birthplace. Our translator had grown up blocks away and was a percussionist himself. Many elders came through and shared knowledge. While we began the walk in Pa’lante, we wanted to find more weeds to investigate, so we visited two nearby abandoned lots. Meanwhile, inside the garden, little ones were walking about being their precious, inquisitive selves, attentive to a demonstration about seed-saving.

On the walk, I and attendees asked : why is an angiosperm growing spontaneously in the country called a “wildflower” but growing spontaneously in the city called a “weed?” This dichotomy parallels how the poor, immigrants and especially Black folk—who have stewarded cities since long before bourgeois decided they were desirable—have been looked upon as unclean, vulgar, unnatural and invasive: threats to be irradiated, confined, or controlled. In spite of the disparagement heaped upon wild medicine, how can we embrace these plants—this medicine growing all around us?

Together we felt closer to the living earth under our feet and the plants that rise up from it, yes even through concrete. I want to thank GreenThumb for paying its facilitators, making programs free to the public and helping organize beautiful intergenerational spaces that are safe and welcoming for POC plant nerds. Onward!