If you have me over for dinner and ask what I’d like to drink, I’m probably going to disappoint you. My go-to “adult beverages” are wine and, well… wine. Nothing mixed. Nothing with a lot of proof on the bottle. A margarita with Mexican and a beer after a long day in the sun, but otherwise it’s pretty much a glass of Chardonnay or a full-bodied Cabernet. Not much creativity in picking my poison, it seems. Yet that’s not quite true. Out on my property I’m faced with poison just about every day, as I fight a persistent onslaught of noxious weeds.
Noxious weeds make their appearance around here every spring – without fail – just when I’m fooled into thinking this, this is the year they’ll cut me a break and infiltrate someone else’s property instead. I’ll walk out one morning and seemingly overnight the uninviteds have taken prominent positions among the prairie grass. Knapweed. Toadflax. Mullein. And the worst of this noxious bunch: thistle.
Weeds annoy most anyone, but noxious weeds deserve a place in Hollywood’s scariest horror flick. These bad boys earn descriptors like “aggressive invader”, “detrimental to native plants”, and “poisonous to livestock”. Noxious weeds fall into a family of growees known as “alien plants”, which means they don’t belong here in Colorado. Nor anywhere else on Earth if you ask me. Name one redeeming aspect of these pernicious inhabitants. I can’t, except perhaps I get a solid workout while I struggle to keep them at bay.
Operative phrase there, keep them at bay. Not kill them. Most noxious weeds establish an underground root system as strong as chain link fence. Many are impervious to the most aggressive chemical warfare. Try yanking out the whole plant and you’ll burn through a bank’s worth of sweat equity. Better to use something gas-powered instead. Or a flame thrower.
Yes, Colorado has its Rocky Mountains and seasons of snow, but most of the Centennial State is high and dry desert. We’re constantly challenged by drought, and in those conditions noxious weeds thrive. Our county even has a “Noxious Weeds Division”, of the Environmental Division of the Community Services Department. Send them an email and they’ll tell you everything you need to know about noxious weeds. Most disturbingly, how they’re here… to… stay.
Let’s get to know these persistent plants a little better:
- Diffuse knapweed – Picture a tumbleweed. Large, round, and spiny. Not very nice to look at. You can knock off knapweed by severing the single taproot, but, its seeds can still develop on the cut plant. Time for a bonfire.
- Dalmatian toadflax – Showy, yellow, snapdragon-like flowers. One plant can produce a half-million seeds. The best way to control this bugger is… with bugs. Can anyone spare some root-boring moths or stem-boring weevils?
- Common mullein – Starts as an innocent, flat, green “rosette”, then bursts into a ramrod straight stalk, several feet tall. Mercifully, mullein has a shallow root. Meanwhile, people think you’re growing corn in your pasture.
- Canada thistle – Small purple flowers bunched on tall, dark green stalks, replete with thorns and other self-defense mechanisms. Hand-pulling this freakshow of nature stimulates its growth. If you ask me, Canada thistle is better named “Satan’s Rosebush”.
How do I know the exact species of my noxious weeds? Because my county’s Noxious Weeds Division tells me… when they send letters threatening to charge for maintenance if I don’t do it myself. My advice: it’s best to obey the Noxious Weeds Division.
Now for some noxious weed trivia:
- Worldwide damage caused by noxious weeds: $1.4 trillion USD.
- Russian thistle lives longer than humans.
- Giant hogweed (which causes a nasty, blistering skin rash) earns a spot in the Guinness Book as “world’s largest weed”. Its umbrella-like blooms can hover more than eighteen feet, on stalks three or more inches around. “Giant” indeed.
- Lastly… (and my personal favorite), before the chemical embalming process, tansy ragwort was used to line coffins because of its ability to repel vermin. Hey! Another redeeming aspect of noxious weeds.
I have a fond weed memory (believe it or not). When I was a kid, I stayed at my uncle’s house for several days alongside a cousin about the same age. Somehow my uncle had us weeding his front yard (work in exchange for food?). Those straight-and-tall weeds looked like a vast army of soldiers. So that’s how my cousin and I took to the job. We split the yard down the middle, declared ourselves generals, and started taking down the soldiers one by one. When the dust cleared and the “bodies” were removed, the battlefield was admirably clean. We declared victory and went inside for a much-needed shower.
I’ve just returned from another battle with my noxious weeds. I lopped off dozens of mullein tops with my pruning shears, to shut down their seed spread. It’s exhausting work and I’m done picking poison for the day. I could use a drink. Nothing mixed, of course. A beer will do just fine.
Some content sourced from the Noxious Weeds and Control Methods guidelines document, State of Colorado, El Paso County, Community Services Department, Environmental Division.