The world’s most unwanted plants help trees make more fruit

By: Angela Nicoletti

Weeds, often unwanted, wild-growing plants might not be particularly attractive to humans, but they do put a spell on important pollinators like bees and butterflies.

“Weeds actually do a lot of good,” said Blaire Kleiman, an FIU Institute of Environment graduate teaching assistant. “It might be helpful to think of them of wildflowers instead of these horrible, ugly things that need to be removed. I say, if they aren’t hurting the trees, we should just leave them alone.”

Kleiman wanted to see if weeds could play similar role with insectary plants (plants that attract pollinators) since there are hundreds different varieties of flowering weeds.

Kleiman compared mango trees at a local farm in Homestead, Florida. One plot of trees had weeds growing around them. The other plot was maintained and weed-free. The pollinators preferred the trees with the weeds. In turn, the trees benefitted and produced more mangos.

Kleiman points out findings apply also to all of the roughly 80 percent of flowering plants of Earth, including fruit trees and all flowering vegetable plants like tomatoes, beans, eggplants and squash. She hopes this information can help farmers save time and money, as well as reduce the use of chemical pesticides.