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butterfly on orange flower

Wild Weeds: Friends or Foes?

When it comes to gardening mishaps, sometimes letting weeds run wild can be a good thing.

Have you ever noticed tiny white flowers lining roadways, or more commonly, your landscape bed? What about flowers in fields, forests, or other natural areas? Believe it or not, these flowers play an important role in ecological health, and as we celebrate pollinator week, it’s fitting to recognize an important contributor: Weeds.

Weeds, or plants considered undesirable in a particular situation, may not always be welcome in the yard but are commonly celebrated by native plant life as an important source of nectar, groundcover for barren lands and habitat for wildlife.

Bidens alba flowers.
Credit: Annette Chandler, UF/IFAS

Spanish Needles (Bidens alba) is commonly known as a plant pest, but is often used as a wildflower to attract bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, beetles and other pollinators by ecologists, horticulturalists and conservationists throughout Florida. In Florida, it is the third most common source of nectar for honeybees.

Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a native milkweed. It is a larval food plant of monarch and queen butterflies. The flower nectar attracts honeybees, wasps, butterflies like fritillaries, swallowtails, and the monarch. Butterfly weed flower is also known to attract hummingbirds.

Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella) is a native wildflower that blooms year around in Florida. While blanketflower is seen as a weed due to its prolific reseeding, it is an excellent nectar plant for butterflies and other pollinators.

Wildflowers at MREC

Tickseed (Coreopsis sp.) is a common wildflower in Florida that ranges from roadside, open fields to garden. Coreopsis is the Florida state wildflower, consists of 16 species, all native to Florida. Tickseed flowers are a steady, long blooming source of food for a diversity of pollinators.

Purple Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a beautiful native flowering vine. It is an aggressive grower and disliked by many gardeners. This plant is a larval food for the state butterfly of Florida, Zebra longwing butterfly.

Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) is a plant that can be used as a groundcover. Due to its long flowering season, fogfruit is considered a dependable nectar source for butterflies. Fogfruit is a host plant for Common Buckeye, Phaon Crescent and White Peacock caterpillars.

Creeping woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata) is one of the weeds that has great potential to be a groundcover plant. The pollen and nectar of the flowers attract bees, the Cabbage white butterfly and provides seeds as food to birds and rabbits.

Native wild plants, often seen as weed are well adapted to local soil and climate. They require minimal irrigation, fertilizer, and care. They are a dependable and regular source of nectar and pollen for pollinators year-round. Incorporating native wildflowers in your garden or backyard will promote the biodiversity of your area. In addition, it will provide food and shelter for a diversity of wildlife.

Written by: Yuvraj Khamare & Caroline Warwick

2 Comments on “Wild Weeds: Friends or Foes?

  1. Spanish Needles (Bidens alba) is edible! Try a flower.

    • yes, I dry the young leaves and flowers to use it along with green tea.