High Points: The whistle of the thistle | AspenTimes.com
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High Points: The whistle of the thistle

Paul E. Anna
High Points

They’re back! No I don’t mean the Texans, though they too have made this their summertime haunt. I mean the thistles, those insidious, prickly weeds that return annually to take over open land all around the county.

Look over there, that’s the Canada Thistle with its lavender flowers blooming atop the hairy, sticky stalks. And here, in Old Snowmass and up the Crystal River, is the pesky Musk Thistle, with its dark green leaves and the little pricker-stickers that seem to leap off their branches and penetrate your fingers. Let’s not forget the Plumeless Thistles that are all over the county and seem to find a home whenever and wherever a new ditch, hole, or road is dug.

Pitkin County’s Weed Advisory Board has a published list of around 30 different weeds that are subject to eradication, containment or suppression depending upon the infestation. Many of the weeds, the Oxeye daisy or the Leafy spurge, for example, are just as bad as thistles in terms of their effects on the surrounding landscape. But they seem more benign because they are not weoponized like the thistles.

Living in Old Snowmass, a hot bed for the insurgents, I try to do my part to get a handle on thistles. The problem is there are so many of them and so few of me. I will walk the road with a good sharp ax, wade into the fields and stomp on the roots of the thistles. Once they are down I will “thrash” them with the ax, separating the stalks from the root system. It seems that for each I destroy, though, six more rise up to take their place.

Once upon a time, not as far back as the day of the ZG license plates, but still, a while ago, one would regularly see “Thrash a Thistle for Fritz” bumper stickers on local cars. They were an attempt to raise awareness for the need to eradicate these invaders before they took over and forced out the “local” weeds (kind of like second-home owners). There are folks who still take that saying to heart and get out into the fields, into the ditches, and down by the streams to knock out as many thistles as they can before they go to flower.

For the uninitiated, the “Fritz” on the bumper was Fritz Benedict. Fritz, who passed in 1995. Fritz, an Aspen pioneer, architect and land planner, was one of the premier progenitors of the Aspen Idea. Benedict was also a noted pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright. His apprenticeship with Wright began when he became the head gardener at Taliesin, Wright’s famed school for architects in Spring Green, Wisconsin. It was there that Benedict began an association with the earth and the things that grow in it. Later in life, he became a strong advocate for the removal of noxious weeds, hence the slogan “Thrash a Thistle for Fritz.”

They may seem overwhelming, but if you can, this weekend, grab an ax, a shovel, or a machete and walk your land. You may not get them all, but thrashing a thistle or two is good land management.

Do it for the land. Do it for Fritz.


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