John Cardina’s Lives of Weeds Highlights Nature/Human Battle

Imagine a toe-to-toe battle between mutated and hyperevolved organisms facing off with humans that threatens to upend our civilization. The survival of the entire world is at stake. Does this sound like science fiction? Think again.

This is the story of Lives of Weeds: Opportunism, Resistance, Folly by John Cardina. He uses his wide imagination and holistic understanding to explain how biology, farming systems and economic interests interact. Cardina weaves a story about how weeds have challenged the agricultural system since the Agricultural Revolution. Focuses include grave agricultural threats such as marestail–a bane within GMO crop fields–and Florida beggarweed, the arch enemy of peanut farmers.

Our weapons against them? Herbicides and other chemicals invented to destroy weeds. But Cardina also connects pesticides to the recurring evolution of weeds. The latter occurs through selection pressures and resistance. Selection pressures involve changing circumstances that challenge the continued existence of an organism–a plant designated as a weed in this case.

This forces extremely rapid evolution to overcome these challenges. Which means resistance, or the ability for a plant to resist outside pressures trying to decimate it. This results in plants invulnerable to herbicides. Effectively, the agricultural industry and weeds are in a Coyote-Roadrunner relationship.

But Cardina ends with a note of hope. In his epilogue, Cardina presents familiar solutions such as buying from organic farms and buying from more civilized meat producers (or not buying meat at all). After all, less informed consumers drive the demand for GMOs and industrialized farming. These simple solutions, if implemented globally, could benefit the planet and stop the futility of the weeds versus humans battle.

Despite the fascinating premise, this book is definitely not bathroom reading. With twenty pages of citations at the end, Cardina can appeal to the general reader but also demands their full attention. But if one is ready for this journey, dive in.