Take a look at this photograph.  At first blush, it appears to be a splendid meadow brimming with beautiful yellow flowers.  Pausing to peer closer, you may discover that these many hundreds (thousands) of acres have been taken over by a pernicious (I think that is the proper word), highly unwanted weed: yellow-star thistle.

Once exotic plants take over, it is basically too late to restore a site to its native vegetation.  So, I guess that is the advice from this week’s column:  When you see plants that have the ability to out-compete any native plants, it is time to get rid of them.

There are many ways to weed out those non-native plants: Hand picking is what I’ve been doing for more than 20 years.  My quarry has been Canadian thistle, yellow-star thistle, Scott’s broom, and lately the impossible task, I know, of keeping in check dandelions and cornflowers.  I do enjoy simply walking with my dog with shovel in hand, so there is some therapeutic benefits for my madness.  I’m also pleased to report  that for now I have eradicated Scott broom, and kept both Canadian thistle and yellow-star thistle in check.

When I worked as a Habitat Biologist, I came reluctantly to the conclusion that the use of short-lived chemicals was okay when battling the likes of blackberry and Reed canary grass to restore riparian areas.  I have also seen noteworthy results when hoards of volunteers attack an area on an annual basis to remove weeds from small areas.  Many federal and state agencies along with non-profit organizations like the Nature Conservancy have been successful removing weeds from their project sites.

I realize that when I look at my 10 acres of meadow that essentially all of the plants I see are non-native, so like medial triage, I’ve decided to go after the toughest exotics and those I can enjoy some semblance of success.  Much to my surprise, and I believe that nature deserves all the credit, native plants have slowly, slowly crept back into the meadow, started first with the appearance of buttercup (I hope that’s a native!) then desert parsley.

Weeding is a life-long task and I have no idea whether we are winning this war in the western United States, yet if native plants, especially rare species, are to have a chance, learn about your plants, then consider picking up a shovel and taking a walk around your stewardship land and pluck those that really don’t belong here. ~

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