Those flowers between the rails, a confused wind of travels.

– J.L.Godard, The Image Book

Ruderal (from the Latin ‘rudus’ meaning ‘rubble’) ecologies are what emerge after human-made disturbances: the flowers on the site of an ancient ruin, which thrive on the calcium, bright light and good drainage provided by crumbling monuments; the post-bomb ecologies of post-war Berlin nourished by the residue of explosives; the urban prairie of post-industrial Detroit, its factory parking lots colonized by waving oat grass and skulking coyotes; irradiated Chernobyl, which is too toxic for human life but teems with biodiversity. Ruderal ecologies encompass the terrain vague glimpsed from a highway, brownfields and industrial wastelands glimpsed from commuter rails, and ragtag incursions of adventitious trees like Ailanthus and Robinia into garbage-strewn savannahs of savaged earth and oily weeds. In the Anthropocene, it can be argued that the whole earth has become a ruderal ecology. We have disturbed it all; all is besmirched including the climate itself. To see the bio-sphere as a ruderal ecology is to see civilization as a slow-release fertilizer, accumulating toxicity over time.

The ruderal is what comes up after us, irrupting through our scorched earth and abandoned ambitions. It is grateful for what we leave behind, wrung out and dug over. It watches us rise and waits for our fall. When we look away, it is there, rounding our corners and tugging at the powerlines in resplendent rampancy until they snap one day in a shower of sparks and all goes quiet. We are to the ruderal, what we have always been to time-biding and persistent weeds—just another layer for them to root into.

Definition and image by Oliver Kellhammer