I had a chance to do some weeding yesterday. As I hand-weed I enjoy noticing what I'm pulling up: some weeds are old adversaries that I've been struggling with for years, others are easy to get rid of, and some are pretty or interesting enough that I wish I could leave them to grow—and sometimes do. Yesterday I noticed a weed that I remembered from our "community garden" plot last year, but which I hadn't ever seen in the yard before. But even with all that observation, I really don't know much about most of my weeds—most notably, I couldn't give you a name for hardly a one.
I wish that weren't so. Knowing a thing's name helps me remember it, categorize it—really notice it in a different way. Take plantain—not the banana looking thing, but the broadleaf weed that you probably work to keep out of your yard. It's everywhere, and it can help treat ailments from diarrhea to poison ivy rash, but for a long time I only noticed it when I was trying to pull it out of my lawn until I learned about it on a historical nature walk with a third-grade class (I've long since given up caring about even non-medicinal lawn weeds, by the way). Now I notice it all the time. Or black walnut: there are several trees around the center of town, but it wasn't until I learned what they were that I even noticed the hundreds of nuts! And what about elderberries? When you learn what they are and what you can make with the flowers and berries, you'll suddenly notice that they're everywhere, free for the foraging! (I noticed after I bought two plants for our yard.)
Even when there's no immediate advantage to knowing something's name, it's nice to have a label to hang your noticings on. I discovered that bird I wrote about the other day is a gray catbird, and just knowing the name and a few facts has let me pay much better attention to the pair in our yard. It was a site called whatbird.com that clued me in: it lets you put in what you know about the bird—color, size, head shape, and location in my case—and gives you a list of possibilities to look at. Now I just need to find something similar for weeds.
Of course, even better would be the chance to hang out with someone who actually knows this stuff. Can you imagine what life must have been like before we got all our learning from the internet? I'm amazed birds or weeds even have names any more... that the knowledge hasn't just disappeared in the last 50 years, leaving each individual to make up their own descriptive names: "spiky grass weed", "lawn cabbage", "lemon hearts". Although sometimes that works: I totally would have gone with "gray cat bird" if I had to come up with something myself. But it's nice to have confirmation!