Weeds or wild nature: a permaculture perspective

David Holmgren, Holmgren Design Services, 16 Fourteenth Street, Hepburn, Victoria 3461, Australia.


Land design and management informed by permaculture principles tends to regard naturalized species of plants as assets that should be managed to stabilize water and soil, build biomass, fix nutrients, ameliorate microclimate and provide habitat, fodder, fuel and food in the early stages of system development. While naturalized species may be given a lower value in permaculture design than species regarded as indigenous to the site and region, the typical designation of naturalized species as ‘invasive species’ or ‘environmental weeds’ is typically rejected as anti-ecological thinking.

The background and basis for this positive view of naturalized plants is not well understood, and has led to strong and persistent criticism of permaculture by those promoting the orthodox view of naturalized species as invasives. This has itself influenced the practices and teaching of many permaculturists to moderate or compromise the permaculture approach to naturalized species. Consequently the ‘weeds or wild nature’ controversy is alive and well within the permaculture movement.

As one of the co-originators of the permaculture concept I am in a position to provide a unique perspective on the evolution of this debate and its connection to wider debate on this issue in conservation and land management networks. Inevitably this story is partly an historical and personal one rather than a review of scientific literature on the subject.


Plant Protection Quarterly (2011) 26 (3) 92-97.