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Ralph Waldo Emerson described a weed as a plant whose virtue has not yet been discovered. And when you’re hoeing or pulling weeds, it definitely can be a challenge to find anything virtuous about them. Those that are the peskiest and most hated thrive in places you don’t want them to be, whether in your garden or lawn, in a field or on wild land or roadsides.

Weeds tend to share some common attributes that contribute to their bad name — helping them survive under conditions where other plants would fail. Here are just a few of the characteristics that make a weed a weed:

  • They tend to produce lots of seed — sometimes tens of thousands of seeds per plant.
  • Their seed can sometimes survive for a very long time in the soil, going dormant but then sprouting just as soon as conditions are right. Simply disturbing the soil is often enough to trigger new growth.
  • They are able to establish themselves quickly. Sometimes they seem to crop up in the blink of the eye.
  • They often have mechanisms that enable them to spread easily, such as the ability to reproduce vegetatively without seeds.
  • They can grow in inhospitable locales where more desirable plants typically wouldn’t survive.