Life
Sidewalks are being ‘vandalized’ with plant names to help people connect more with nature
Radical botanists have taken outdoors, labeling street weeds. Their efforts have sparked widespread environmental enthusiasm.
Blake Hyatt
05.14.20

With chalk in-hand and shareable floral expertise, principled European botanists and plant enthusiasts have started labeling weeds growing on sidewalks. No, not that kind of weed, but the species growing on your nearest street corner.

With roots in France, the More Than Wheels campaign features British botanists intentionally breaking chalking laws as a means of reinventing society’s views on the disposable and forgotten.

Pexels/Dominika Gregušová
Source:
Pexels/Dominika Gregušová

People seem to hate weeds, especially homeowners with large yards. They’re considered alien invaders and are often disposed of through environmentally harmful chemicals. They’re generally not respected on sidewalks either, viewed as indicators of poor design or lousy construction material.

Nobody seems to like weeds, plural.

But these rebellious botanists won’t stand for it. Not one bit.

Pexels/Ylanite Koppens
Source:
Pexels/Ylanite Koppens

Chalking enthusiasts argue that the perception of weeds needs to change. Although unintended and oftentimes unwanted, they add a unique flavor to city streets. Weeds also benefit the local ecosystem.

Boris Presseq, a French botanist based in Toulouse, recently spent time walking around the city, identifying wild plants.

“I wanted to raise awareness of the presence, knowledge and respect of these wild plants on sidewalks. People who had never taken the time to observe these plants now tell me their view has changed. Schools have contacted me since to work with students on nature in the city,” he told The Guardian.

Boris argues that these plants are crucial. Located at the base of the food chain, they provide energy and resources to countless city-dwelling organisms. Chalking gives them an identity.

Weeds are often hard to contain, spreading like wildfire if left unchecked. Come to think of it, they sound more like unending bringers of life than inevitable annoyances.

Twitter/Elizabeth Archer
Source:
Twitter/Elizabeth Archer

Botanical gardening highlights changing views on the role of city plants within British urban centers.

Some feel that chemical herbicide application should be significantly reduced or done away with. Sidewalks can be properly maintained without adding problematic picloram and atrazine to the environment.

In 2018, Hackney county cut carcinogenic herbicide glyphosate volumes by 50%. New measures include the following:

  • Removing weeds by hand sans chemicals
  • Preventing glyphosate spray in 100 kilometers of certain streets
  • Limiting the number of seasonal sprays to three instead of four
  • More hands-on spray application instead of via vehicle
Pexels/Steve Johnson
Source:
Pexels/Steve Johnson

Surprisingly, weed species produce tons of nectar and pollen, to the boon of countless insects. Dandelions, the bane of some suburban yards, are particularly potent pollinators.

What most consider disposable nuisances are actually quite productive community contributors.

In most of the aforementioned areas, it’s technically illegal to chalk sidewalks. But nobody seems to mind. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that people enjoy the new chalk labels. Elizabeth Archer recently appreciatively posted some local plant photos:

Twitter/Elizabeth Archer
Source:
Twitter/Elizabeth Archer

Her caption graciously reads,

“To whomever is chalking names and descriptions of trees on the pavements across Walthamstow. I love you. This made my heart sing today.”

The chalking botanists stress a more fundamental appreciation for all living things coupled with a deeper understanding of nature’s machinations. The chalk labels add identity, providing a context and history for each plant – people seem much more likely to care.

The rebel botanists are radical in that they promote a collective, grassroots change of heart and thought, simultaneously circumventing the law in the process.

As cliché as it sounds, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. In this case, what we’ve collectively deemed as trash seems to yield a tremendous bounty.

Please SHARE this with your friends and family.

By Blake Hyatt
hi@sbly.com
Blake Hyatt is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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