Weed? Or Wonderful?

LAH_7583Everything is growing. Buds are bursting, early flowers are in bloom, and millions of tiny seeds are breaking through the soil into eager growth. It’s a wonderful time of year, and a busy one for gardeners. As we sow seeds and pull weeds, the question arises—which is which? Should we dig out that clump of green, or is it a desirable plant?

This is especially difficult if it’s a new yard, and this is our first chance to see what’s growing in it. Let me tell you a short story illustrating my gardening ineptitude.

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Teasel Isn’t Teasing

Teasel @BearCreek LAH 026Most of us are familiar with teasel. It grows in most states, including Colorado where it is designated a “List B” species in the Colorado Noxious Weed Act. That means that, if you live in Colorado (or several other states), you need to declare war on any plants on your property. Good luck.

Teasels are easily identified by the spiny flower head left behind after the petals have fallen, as you can see in these photos. There are two species listed as noxious weeds in Colorado—the Common Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), shown, and its lookalike cousin Cutleaf Teasel (Dipsacus laciniatus).

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Bad Daisies

Oxeye_Daisy_TaylorCanyon_2008jul14_LAH_006-001Fresh as a daisy. Daisy chains. “The daisy’s for simplicity and unaffected air.”*

Symbols of simple charm, it’s hard to imagine that daisies could be anything but pure and innocent. Yet, the familiar Oxeye daisy has a dark side. Under that attractive and cheerful guise lurks… a noxious weed!

Take a trip to the mountains to see the wildflowers, and you’re bound to see Oxeye daisies as well. They’re all over the Rockies, preferring the higher elevations. Unfortunately, they don’t belong here. They’re native to Europe, and we heartily wish they had stayed there!

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Whitetop (aka Hoary Cress)

whitetop_fcnc-co_lah_0313Spring flowers are finally filling the fields. Milk vetch, penstemons, wild onions and marsh marigolds all caught my eye as I hiked though the towering cottonwoods along Fountain Creek, at the base of the Rockies here in central Colorado. I was particularly impressed by huge swaths of a foamy white flower I didn’t immediately recognize.

Counting the petals—each tiny flower had four—and examining the foliage led us to conclude the plants were Crucifers, members of the mustard family. Sure enough, we were enjoying the pretty flower heads of Whitetop (Cardaria draba), an aggressive import from Europe and Asia that is listed as a noxious weed here in Colorado (List B). Oh dear.

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Planning Ahead

garden-dreams2

It’s the beginning of a new year, and time to dream about the upcoming growing season. Do you want to add some permanent plantings?  Are you imagining flower beds brimming with annuals? Will you be buying from catalogs? (Get that order in early before they run out of that must-have variety.)

With the Christmas decorations packed away for another year, I finally have time to take a deep breath, brew a cup of tea, and begin to think about spring. I start by making a list of topics, and then mark down what will need doing, and when.

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Locoweeds

oxytropis-lambertii_locoweed_kcs-co_lah_3438nefI was hiking on a nearby ranch last week when we came across some spectacular wildflowers. As I knelt to grab some photos, my plant expert companion remarked, “You know that’s locoweed. We should pull it out!”

What? Destroy these beauties? Why? I was about to receive an education.

Locoweed (or crazyweed) is the common name for two genera of western plants, Oxytropis (left) and Astragalus (also called milkvetch), both in the pea family, and both including some species that contain the toxin swainsonine. Swainsonine interferes with protein metabolism and causes nerve damage.

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A Second Opinon on Invasive Species

I recently read a confounding article on Garden Rant (a gardening blog like no other). The author was reporting on some new research suggesting that not all invasive species should be eradicated.

lonicera-honeysuckle-dbg-19sept05-lah-250-1Specifically, a Penn State biologist named Tomas Carlo studied Japanese Honeysuckle (considered a noxious weed in much of the eastern US) and found that its presence increased the biodiversity of bird species as well as the number of individual birds. In fact, the fall berries are a major source of food for fruit-eating birds.

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Dalmation Toadflax – Linaria

linaria-toadflax-santafetrailcsco-2008oct07-lah-001More charmingly known as Butter-and-Eggs, the common name “Toadflax” applies to several similar species. All sport cheerful yellow flowers resembling snapdragons, to which they are related. Two-foot tall clumps of smooth green stems are covered with narrow, pointy leaves two and a half inches long. The flowers appear whenever growing conditions permit.

Originally imported from Eurasia as ornamentals, the plants quickly escaped cultivation and are featured on many wildflower posters. Unfortunately, Toadflaxes are now officially listed as noxious weeds. As such, it is illegal to grow them or sell their seeds.

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