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Horseweed

In 1970 Dr. John E. Franz, laboring away (with many assistants) in his lab at Monsanto discovered something called glyphosate that looks like this:

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Glyphosate is a systemic herbicide, in other words, a chemical that kills some plants, but not others. Franz, et al at Monsanto thought this might be good for agricultural purposes and in 1974 put it in a vat labeled Roundup.

Carnage ensued, not only of so called “weeds” but also of animals, microbes, fish, and other plants. But Monsanto didn’t care. Its profits were too great, its reach too wide, its power too seductive to stop now.

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But then something happened. One day, that seemed like any other day, in a field, that seemed like any other field, a crop duster rained its poison down upon its unsuspecting prey. But on that day Conyza Canadensis rose up, resisted, refused to go quietly into that not-so-good night. As Superman is immune to the radiation of the Earth’s sun, Conyza developed an immunity to the toxic powers of Roundup.

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 Indeed it can be said that this is from whence it gathers its strength. Since embarking upon its epic quest to reclaim our fields from monoculture and parks from banal botany, Conyza has recruited twenty-three others to join the ranks of Superweeds including the mighty Amaranthus Palmeri and the swift Ambrosia Artemisiifolia.

Meanwhile, the goons at Monsanto thought they would counter by spreading more of their toxic agent. But to no avail and there are some reports of Superweeds growing up to three inches a day.  The fight continues. 

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It’s no wonder horseweed is tenacious as it is. Afterall, it is a Native American plant defending its own turf.  As such, it was employed by numerous indigenous peoples for a variety of purposes. The Seminole used as a cough and cold medicine; the Hopi for headaches; the Zuni to treat rhinitis; and the Miwok to flavor food with a taste similar to that of onions. Nearly everyone used it as a fire starter in the days when friction was required to sprout a flame.

First noticed by colonizing Europeans in 1640, it soon made it’s way across the Atlantic likely as a stowaway in the pelt of a beaver or the murky depths of a ship’s ballast. Immediately thereafter it was recognized for its worth and the entire plant was dried to make a dropsy treating tea.

Unfortunately both here and across the pond, the courageous Conyza has fallen out of favor. But what superhero hasn’t been misunderstood at one time or another? It’s time will again soon come. In the meantime, you can find Conyza growing in Bronx back alleyways, sprouting in Maspeth parking lots, and hanging out on the hippest corners of Bushwick.

 

 

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