By Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
I’m ashamed to say that this weekend was the first weekend in over a month that the grass has been cut. It was not face-smacking height, but it was close. As I made my way across the yard, I noticed many varieties of weeds that had popped up thanks to the ample amounts of rain! Dandelions were of the majority, but second runner up for the most common weed in the yard was the Nodding Plumeless Thistle. The name may not ring a bell now, but it will by the end of this article.
Most of the time, my husband and I are very adamant about keeping a nice yard. We don’t go more than two weeks without cutting the grass and the flowers are usually all alive and well. So far this year, the rain has curbed my enthusiasm. But that is the last time I let this thistle business grow wild. It is best characterized by its huge, spiny leaves and the purple dandelion-like flowers. The flowers will sometime nod or dip, and the leaves will form little mounds on the ground. Sometimes the weed (the more politically correct term is a forb, but it’s a weed in my opinion) will get some height on it. When it does, the flowers sit on top of a thick, hairy stalk that will also have spines. The plants form dense infestations in pastures, but are turned down by livestock (I would snuff that large spiny thing too). However, the flowers are most commonly pollinated by livestock, wind, and water. Of course, this obnoxious weed/forb is not native to the United States and was introduced from Europe because it looked pretty. It occurs mostly in open, disturbed areas or areas that experience flooding and/or landslides. A SINGLE PLANT CAN PRODUCE 120,000 OR MORE SEEDS ANNUALLY!!!! That is crazy. That kind of reproduction is not a good thing when you are talking about an invasive species!
So how do we combat the thistle? The best method is prevention. If you are able to keep other crops or plants growing, they can outgrow the thistle and it will have a hard time establishing itself. If you do not maintain your yard or pastures, it will take over. Also try to remove any small infestations before they become too large to eradicate. Thistle does not compete well with other plants, so keep a diverse plant community growing in your fields or pastures to deter this pesky species!
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