Wednesday, September 19, 2012

March of the Invaders

Invasive plants make my world less wonderful. The land is our living, and having to battle these vermin really tests us. It seems we fight one weed, then something more insidious takes its place. So we fall back and try to hold our ground with the new one. Now it’s plants with burrs, a rancher's nemesis because they stick to the hides of cattle, horses and dogs. Puncture vine, houndstongue, burdock, cockle burr - are there more?
We’re in the middle of farm ground, lots of traffic coming and going, with plenty of opportunity for the spread of weed seeds. Plus, we raise animals and they're good at spreading seed as well. The farmers till the ground and apply chemicals to keep their fields clean at all costs. They grow monocultures, a single species per season. We have a more natural landscape, which we love, being strong believers in biodiversity, but it’s vulnerable to intruders. Our weapons are limited. We spray, we pull and cut, we try to manage for what we wantgiving desirable plants every advantage, but I’m afraid it’s a lost cause.

Puncture vine, or goatshead, is a particularly virulent imposter. It grows on the edges of the paved roads and all around the pivot farms in our neighborhood. It sticks to tires with a stubborn burr and can flatten a bike tire. It spreads prone to the ground with tendrils running up to six feet from the center. It grows in hot dry dirt or sand, green and happy without a drop of water. The hay stackyard is especially vulnerable with its bare ground and constant traffic. We found a house-sized mat of the vine there and attacked it with several people, rolling it up as we cut the roots. The roll was so long and heavy, we had to cut it in chunks to load it in the pickup. 

Of course invasive animals are also a worry. And it’s not just the truly noxious intruders that concern me. We love our mourning doves, but their sad song is being drowned out by the harsher call of the eurasian collared dove, a relative newcomer. Is there room in our habitat for both of them, or will the larger birds take over the dove niche? Even kingbirds, which I mostly like, seem to shoulder out more delicate birds. I fear a world given over to generalists - rabbit brush, Russian olive, coyotes, white tail deer, kochia, cheat grass, starlings, and blackbirds. In this scary future, young people wouldn't recognize sage-grouse, mule deer, monarch butterflies, or cutthroat trout

In my weed war, I’m hoping that technology will come to the rescue. I’m waiting for a hand held wand with a dial that I can turn to the targeted weed, touch a leaf and cause immediate death. I wonder if the FDA would approve that.

carpet roll of puncture vine -  nasty!

And to make me feel better:

bees attack a sagebrush in bloom - biodiversity

bread and butter pickles from the garden

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