Once upon a time, if someone mentioned weed in the context of travel, I'd have assumed they were planning a trip to Amsterdam. However, now I'm all grown up, I see the word weed in a whole new light. But the annoying thing is, the more you find out about weeds, and the more proficient you become at recognising the enormous range of pest plants, the more they have the power to ruin a perfectly pleasant walk, or a bike ride, or a good old-fashioned Sunday drive.
That is because weeds are everywhere. From urban areas to deep country. Once you realise the impact they can have on native flora and fauna, you won't be able to walk past a clump of podding moth plant, or a stand of tobacco weed, without feeling a strong urge to pull it out or cut it down and, ideally, paste its wicked stump.
My desire to wage war on various varieties of vexing vegetation all started when I volunteered on an extreme weeding expedition on Auckland's Motutapu Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Aside from spending a really peaceful day on a beautiful island, I was also taught how to identify moth plant (Araujia hortorum) and I learnt what a threat this perennial vine poses to all other vegetation. I can readily recognise it as a tiny seedling, also when it's climbing and when it flowers and, once you know what you're looking for, you start to see it everywhere. As for their dangling green seed pods, which look a bit like chokos, or diseased feijoas on steroids, they're especially problematic because each one, if left to its own devices, can release thousands of fluffy seeds to the wind, propagating even more of these choking vines. If left unchecked, moth plant can have catastrophic ecological consequences.
Once moth plant was on my radar, I started to become aware of other weeds, like woolly nightshade (Solanum mauritianum), aka tobacco weed or kerosene plant. Aside from smelling unpleasantly pungent, it can cause nasty skin irritations, and it spreads like nobody's business. Then there's Old Man's Beard (Clemitis vitalba), with its smothering climbing vines; periwinkle, the pretty blue-flowered strangler, and sweet cherry (Prunus avium), not to mention plain old thistles. Once you have weeds on your radar, you simply cannot leave home without your gardening gloves, a pair of secateurs or a small saw.
As my passion for weed eradication grew, I went as far as signing up for a week-long weeding mission with an outfit called Wild Mob, now sadly disbanded. The tour party was ostensibly a week's holiday on a Hauraki Gulf island, although our mornings were spent eradicating weeds, among them a voracious, fabaceous thing called mile-a-minute (Persicaria perfoliata) that was smothering one of the islands of The Noises group. The work was arduous and sweaty, but it was also fun and meaningful, to spend time with like-minded people who want to do more on their holidays than just laze by a pool.
Today, I am a regular participant at weeding bees. Sometimes I don't even wait for a bee, I just find a little patch and get stuck in because, once you recognise pest plants, you can't just walk past them and pretend they're not there. Not when you know what they're capable of.
What's more, I have also discovered that giving nature a helping hand helps me feel better about the world and my place in it. More than ever, in these uncertain times, we need to harvest every ounce of positivity we can and, when you do the occasional good deed, whether it's waging a war on weeds, planting trees, pest control, or plain old picking up litter – followed by a hearty hand sanitise - your spirits also lift.
So for as long we can't travel the way we used to, why not devote some of your allotted holiday time this year to giving nature a helping hand? Picture this - a bulging sack full of moth plant pods that have been prevented from propagating - probably not the souvenir you had in mind when dreaming of your travel adventures for 2022, but think how good it will feel, to use some of your precious annual leave to help make the world a better place.
How to get started
To learn to recognise pest plants in your neighbourhood visit weedbusters.org.nz/weed-information/weed-list
To join a weeding or tree planting expedition, you'll find loads of organisations who'll welcome your help if you simply Google "volunteer in nature".
Motutapu Island: A lovely group of core volunteers make regular weed busting trips to this charming Hauraki Gulf island. To find out how to join them, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
S.T.A.M.P - Society Totally Against Moth Plant: This is one of my favourite Facebook pages. Celebrating 10 years of being fabulous this year, the members are so lively and positive, a bunch of really good people all pulling together to eradicate this voracious vine. facebook.com/groups/234572443294360
Friends of Oakley Creek / Te Auaunga: This group has achieved so much in their patch between UNITEC and Waterview in Auckland, and they've helped restore beautiful bush paths that follow the stream to a majestic waterfall, with birds galore. The Friends do weeding, pest control and planting. To join their regular working bees on the first Sunday of every month, go to oakleycreek.org.nz
Tiritiri Matangi Island: This Hauraki Gulf treasure relies heavily on volunteers, whether they're weeding, planting, maintaining tracks, guiding or helping in the gift shop, because an island this amazing needs a lot of helping hands. To find out where you might fit in, visit tiritirimatangi.org.nz or email email@example.com
Conservation Volunteers: This is a fabulous organisation where the ethos is, everyone can make a difference to the health of our environment and society by planting and caring for native trees, eradicating pests and weeds, protecting threatened species, and helping to make our natural spaces accessible to everyone. To get involved visit: conservationvolunteers.co.nz
Waitītiko/Meola Creek restoration – STEPS: STEPS is an Auckland community group, protecting and restoring Waitītiko-Meola Creek, the waterway with the largest catchment on the Auckland isthmus. facebook.com/STEPSNZ
Kaipatiki Project: With bases in Birkdale and Hobsonville, there are plenty of opportunities to get your hands dirty with this nature-loving group. Volunteering has just re-started for 2022, so visit kaipatiki.org.nz to join the fun.
For more travel inspiration, go to newzealand.com/nz.
Check traffic light settings and Ministry of Health advice before travel at covid19.govt.nz