Chatham University

Innovation & Research

When a weed is not a weed

Author and Professor Nancy Gift takes a second look at nature's most beguiling plants

Good Weed Bad Weed: Who's Who, What to Do, and Why Some Deserve a Second Chance

Soon the snow will melt and the lawn will start to show again. After putting the snow shovel away, you might begin to wonder: What exactly are those plants growing out there? Before you drive to the garden store for weed-killers, author, scientist and "weed expert" Nancy Gift, Ph.D. encourages you to first walk around and look a bit closer with her identification guide, "Good Weed, Bad Weed: Who's who, What to do, and Why some deserve a Second Chance" (St. Lynn's Press, February 2011, ISBN 978-0-9819615-6-9, $17.95). Good Weed, Bad Weed is a friendly, authoritative, easy-to-use guide to the uninvited plants in our yard. It explains who they are, how to control them safely, and why it's a good idea to love some of them just the way they are.

Dr. Gift is an assistant professor of environmental studies at Chatham University and author of the New York Times-acclaimed collection of essays, "A Weed by Any Other Name." In her new book, she considers fifty of the most interesting and noteworthy weeds in our lives, with generous helpings of full-color photos by emerging photographer and fellow coworker Sheila Rodgers.

Stories about these weeds include humor and some tasty weed recipes for the inner-locavore in us all. This guide is lawn-ready with heavy matte-laminated pages and concealed-wire binding for handy use outside and it is an attractive gift book for adults and curious kids alike. Each description includes tips for monitoring the weed, and the guide also includes a broader perspective on which weeds are invasive to natural areas, which might be considered colorful ground covers for shady areas, and which ones would be best to serve for dinner each season.

Dr. Gift is a resident of O'Hara Township, Pa. (just a few miles up the Allegheny River from downtown Pittsburgh) and earned her Ph.D. in weed science from Cornell University and a biology degree from Harvard, under the patronage of noted biologist E.O. Wilson. She grew up in the suburbs of Lexington, Kentucky, taking regular walking trips to the nascent University of Kentucky Arboretum. That Arboretum now serves as one of Lexington's best examples of a "biodiverse" (some would say weedy) lawn. Many of the wildflowers seen there appear in her book. Another model location for Dr. Gift's idea of a beautiful lawn is Pittsburgh's Phipps Conservatory, recognized widely as the world's "greenest conservatory."

Sheila Rodgers photographs demonstrate the possibilities in the plants which might have to be examined more closely to fully appreciate. Together, Gift and Rodgers make a clear case for the beauty blossoming beneath the snow. Good Weed, Bad Weed can help readers enjoy the beautiful display of their own backyards.

Good Weed Bad Weed: Who's Who, What to Do, and Why Some Deserve a Second Chance (St. Lynn's Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0-9819615-6-9, $17.95, spiral binding) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers and at


Related Links


Previous Innovation & Research Spotlights