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'Superweed' definition: Herbicide resistance only part of the problem

'Superweed' definition: Herbicide resistance only part of the problem
Weed Science Society of America recommends new definition of catchall term 'superweed' to remove implication that resistance to control is due to herbicides alone

The term Superweed is used by many to describe weeds that are perceived to be more invasive or grow more aggressively after developing resistance to herbicides. But that's not the true definition, the Weed Science Society of America says.

Related: Don't Call Them Superweeds (commentary)

The group joined with six other organizations to develop a real definition for the term, released Tuesday, as its use has expanded in recent years. Not only is it used more often, WSSA said, it comes with "considerable misinformation that isn't supported by scientific facts."

Weed Science Society of America recommends new definition of catchall term 'superweed' to remove implication that resistance to control is due to herbicides alone. (Photo: Bill Johnson, Purdue University Extension weed specialist; Mark Lawson, Syngenta)

WSSA said most online dictionaries associate superweeds with herbicide resistance caused by the suspected transfer of resistance genes from crops to weeds. But to date, WSSA said there is no scientific evidence to indicate that crop to weed gene transfer is contributing to the herbicide resistance issues faced by farmers.

Related: A weed identification quiz you will want to pass!

"Since superweed is now clearly part of the public vernacular, we decided to offer a definition that more clearly reflects the true source of herbicide resistance," Lee Van Wychen, Ph.D., WSSA science policy director, said.

WSSA's definition of superweed focuses on the ability of weeds to develop resistance to virtually any treatment method that is used repeatedly and exclusively.

Superweed: Slang used to describe a weed that has evolved characteristics that make it more difficult to manage due to repeated use of the same management tactic. Over-dependence on a single tactic as opposed to using diverse approaches can lead to such adaptations.

The most common use of the slang refers to a weed that has become resistant to one or more herbicide mechanisms of action due to their repeated use in the absence of more diverse control measures.

Dependence on a single mechanical, biological, or cultural management tactic has led to similar adaptations (e.g. hand-weeded barnyardgrass mimicking rice morphology, dandelion seed production in a regularly mowed lawn, knapweed resiliency to gall fly biocontrol).

Two common misconceptions about a superweed are that they are the result of gene transfer from genetically altered crops and that they have superior competitive characteristics.  Both of these myths have been addressed by the Weed Science Society of America. WSSA has also created a variety of free educational materials and recommendations concerning herbicide resistance and how to avoid it.

Though the term superweed is most often associated with weeds resistant to one or more herbicides, WSSA said resistance can result from overdependence on mechanical, biological or cultural management tactics as well.


Repeated hand-weeding of barnyardgrass growing in rice fields, for example, has led to weeds that escape control by mimicking the appearance of rice plants.

Similarly, spotted knapweed has become increasingly resilient to the gall flies used repeatedly as a biological control. Even dandelions growing in a regularly mowed lawn can evolve to avoid the mower, produce seeds and spread.

Related: Weed Science Society Releases Proceedings of Herbicide Resistance Summit

WSSA's new definition has been endorsed by the Aquatic Plant Management Society, Canadian Weed Science Society, North Central Weed Science Society, Northeastern Weed Science Society, Southern Weed Science Society and the Western Society of Weed Science.

Source: WSSA

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