I would not be surprised if I was known to all my Green Ridge neighbors as “that weird lady who cuts weeds off the side of the highway.” 

It’s true. I scout the location of every wildflower in a loop from Sedalia to Green Ridge, starting where 32nd turns into B Highway and making a loop down to 127, turning on to Y and back into town. I brake for dame’s rocket and Queen Anne’s lace, multiflora roses and bee balm and black-eyed Susies. I even keep my muck boots and a pair of scissors in the car. If you see a strange woman with her hazards on, jumping around in the ditch with a focused look, hi it’s me. I’m ok. I don’t need assistance. I just saw a really pretty flower. 

You might not notice anymore if you’ve lived here a long time, but you Western Missourians have fabulous wildflowers. I recently went home to Illinois for a week, and while we have some really pretty scenery, I can’t say I saw anything worthy of stopping to pick along the roadside. I’m from a heavily farmed rural area, even more so than here, so I assume it’s all been mowed and sprayed out of existence to make way for the crops. Weedy wildflowers are just one of those things that are easy to forget, easy to drive by, easy to kill in the name of pest control or a pretty green lawn — but really quite hard to do without. 

We know the bees that pollinate our food are dying. The USDA has said nearly a million colonies failed in 2007-08 alone. We have heard similar tales in the news about monarch butterflies and even fireflies. There are several hundred types of endangered insects worldwide, dozens in the US, and at least one in Missouri, a little emerald green dragonfly. 

Creepy-crawlies aren’t usually cute or interesting, so it’s hard to get people worked up over saving them specifically. But the common habitats they live and thrive in are much bigger, much prettier, and much more noticeable. Preserving those is a much easier fix: 

  1. 1.Let go of that perfect lawn! Unless you’re a golf course or a model home, there’s no reason for all that grass. Stop mowing it nearly bald and leave those tiny critters a place to hide. Stop spraying stuff that’s liable to give you a weird tumor as well as killing off all the wild things bugs love to eat. I know a thing or two about weird tumors. I’d rather have the weeds.
  2. 2.Make your kids pull weeds as punishment instead, or better yet, leave them be and get your kids interested in plant identification. If we let our yard get a little wild it has dandelions, wild violets, plantain, henbit, chickweed, clover ... the list goes on and on. When we lived in town we even had tiny wild strawberries! 
  3. 3.Learn which plants need preservation the most. Even my grandfather, the antithesis of a hippy, tree-hugging type, told me that last year he refrained from pulling up the milkweed in the pasture. He was concerned about the monarch butterflies who eat it. (If Farmer Grandpa is concerned, we should all be a little worried.) 
  4. 4.Slow down and notice all that beauty. God has made some weird, wild and wonderful things. Things that don’t need our help, and really do best if we just get out of the way and leave them alone. You don’t have to stop on the side of the road and jump out to admire them. In fact, unless you can find a safe parking spot, please don’t. But turn off the radio, let off the gas a little bit, roll down the window and take a good hard look at that next ditch or hillside. Those weeds, even the pretty ones, might not mean much to you. But like everything else, from the greatest to the most insignificant, they were created for a reason. I’m not sure I want to find out what happens if they’re gone for good. 

Contributing Columnist

Liz Schleicher is a wife, stay-at-home-mother, writer and rare cancer survivor.

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