Yesterday a valued ornamental, today a noxious-weed outlaw
June 30, 2005
Weeds have figured prominently in the news lately, and since I recently wrote about the joy of weeding, I can’t resist adding another two cents’ worth. I’ve grown some of the species of plants now called noxious weeds. Are they really one of the biggest threats facing the environment today? Many authorities say so. The U.S. Forest Service says so. Sandra McDonald, Colorado State University environmental and pesticide education specialist, says so. White River National Forest range specialist Wayne Nelson goes so far as to declare, “Noxious weeds are considered by some of the top ecologists in the country as being the No.1 threat to our native ecosystems.” It must be true, right?The Colorado Noxious Weed Act of 2003 designates noxious weeds, classifies them by management goals into three lists, and prescribes specific management techniques for each species. Plants on List A are rare noxious weed species to be eradicated before they become invasive, List B weeds are well-established and their spread is to be halted, while the public is to be educated about managing List C plants so the harm they cause is reduced.I look around my beloved garden and I wonder: Are my flowers endangering the environment? Will the weed police raid my garden any day now? The Master Gardener Program of the CSU Cooperative Extension introduced me to many new plants for this area. Some of the recommended plants in 1986 are on the Colorado Noxious Weed List today, including Russian-olive trees (Eleagnus angustifolia), myrtle spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites), dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis), and oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare). There they are, right next to tamarisk, which hides miles of the Colorado River, and thistles, which choke overgrazed pastures.I received myrtle spurge as a pass-along plant from a friend whose family members were early settlers in this valley. Eventually it seeded itself in and around my boulder wall, becoming a star attraction after the crocuses, its striking chartreuse blooms topping fleshy powdery blue-green leaves symmetrically arranged on thick, gracefully spreading stems. More than one passerby stopped to ask about it. You can spot it in glossy garden picture books and magazines and it’s still readily available for sale. It’s on List A, the hit list. About three years ago, I got to work on the myrtle spurge. With a heavy and rebellious heart, unconvinced of its guilt but feeling a responsibility to be a law-abiding gardener, I dug and pulled until I killed every single one.I purchased Euphorbia cyparissias, the cypress spurge, another List A species, as a six-pack, attracted by its very soft, bright yellow-green foliage reminding me of seaweed underwater. It has a useful groundcover habit resembling one of the taller creeping sedums. To prevent seeding and to encourage fresh growth, I cut spurge down to the ground after its long bloom period. Apart from that brief downtime, it looks great from spring until winter. I haven’t rooted it all out but I have been gradually replacing it with the likes of Hymenoxis scaposa, a Western native going by the delightful common name of Perky Sue.The fragrant purple dame’s rocket, tall and upright, sprinkled here and there throughout my garden, particularly under the fruit trees, is gradually shedding its petals. Replacing it is the familiar white daisy with its big, bright yellow eye. Generations of little girls have plucked the petals on a summer’s day, counting “he loves me, he loves me not.” My mother, as a refugee postwar bride in Germany, collected an enormous sheaf of daisies from a meadow for her wedding bouquet.I started these two from seed. After they finish blooming, I pull most of them, leaving a few plants to seed around for next year. For several months these cheerful, uncomplicated flowers filling in around shrubs and perennials unify the disparate parts of the garden and provide continuity from one wave of bloom to the next. I love them. They are indispensable. They are on List B of the Colorado Noxious Weed List. I’m not sure what the penalties are for noncompliance with the Weed Act.On my coffee table lies the “Arctic Climate Impact Assessment,” the scientific report on global warming presented not long ago to Congress. The news is not reassuring. Today, Monday’s issue of Investor’s Business Daily arrived in my mailbox with the headline “U.S.-China Tensions on Trade Growing, All-out War Unlikely.” Thank goodness our state and county governments are hard at work protecting us from the serious problem – daisies!Anna gardens in Basalt and wonders what a weed is and why. Let her know what you think at email@example.com. Please put “Anna’s Garden” in the e-mail subject line.