A weed in a general sense is a plant that is considered by the user of the term to be a nuisance, and normally applied to unwanted plants in human-made settings such as gardens, lawns or agricultural areas, but also in parks, woods and other natural areas. More specifically, the term is often used to describe native or nonnative plants that grow and reproduce aggressively. Generally, a weed is a plant in an undesired place.
In Weeds of the West, the authors determined which plants to include in the book based on the following criterion, attributed to J.M. Torrell: A plant that interferes with management objectives for a given area of land at a given point in time. Weeds may be unwanted for a number of reasons: they might be unsightly, or crowd out or restrict light to more desirable plants or use limited nutrients from the soil. They can harbor and spread plant pathogens that infect and degrade the quality of crop or horticultur plants. Some weeds are a nuisance because they have thorns or prickles, some have chemicals that cause skin irritation or are hazardous if eaten, or have parts that come off and attach to fur or clothes.
The term weed in its general sense is a subjective one, without any classification value, since a "weed" is not a weed when growing where it belongs or is wanted. Indeed, a number of "weeds" have been used in gardens or other cultivated-plant settings. An example is the corncockle, Agrostemma, which was a common field weed exported from Europe along with wheat, but now sometimes grown as a garden plant. Professor Richard C. Lewontin of Harvard University defines weeds as plants that create environmental conditions in which they themselves cannot reproduce. He takes the example of pine trees that crowd out sunlight such that their own offspring cannot grow. Weeds continue to exist, because the environment is continually being disturbed to create open conditions for new generations, such as forest fires and human activity.