Even though I grew up on the ranch, I never learned much about the plants and animals living here. One of my goals upon moving back was to remedy that. With this blog, I decided to start a Walden Wednesday tradition. Each week, I will pick a plant or animal, research it a bit, and share my learning here.

Unfortunately, this was the first plant I learned how to identify:

knapweed

Spotted Knapweed

Our building site is covered in long, green stalks topped with bristly heads that open up into purple flowers. My mom pointed them out to me our first day surveying the site. Spotted knapweed is pretty enough, in an arid, weedy sort of way. In bloom, the purple flowers contrast nicely against the yellow blossoms of St. John’s wort (one of the few plants I could already identify by sight), blanketing the open spaces in a profusion of color.

knapweed field

Unfortunately, that profusion is a sign of the work we have ahead of us. Spotted knapweed is a noxious weed that sprouts up along the side of the road and in abandoned work sites. When the earth is disturbed and abandoned, the knapweed moves in. Its taproots suck up water faster than the native plants, while its high seed production ensures it propagates quickly. At the same time, its bristly, weedy quality means most grazing herbivores will pass it by. It doesn’t take long before it crowds out native grasses entirely.

I grew up in a trailer on the same site where Drew and I are planning to build. But shortly before I started kindergarten, my parents built a permanent house elsewhere on the property. Save for a short-term occupancy by a family of renters (who left huge piles of trash behind when they left), the former trailer site was abandoned. Not surprisingly, spotted knapweed moved into the disturbed earth where trailer and gardens used to be. It has flourished there, undisturbed, for nearly twenty years — until now.

The battle ahead

One of our goals upon moving back to the ranch was to restore the land. That means battling the knapweed. Drew and my mom started by mowing large swaths of it, but that’s not a permanent solution. We’ll need to plant a competing (preferably native) cover crop to crowd out the knapweed. One study I read suggested grazing goats can also help remove it. That’s good news for us, since we planned on getting a pair of goats anyway. If any of you have successfully eliminated knapweed, I’d love to hear suggestions. Drew and I are still trying to work out a complete plan to eliminate it.

The Purple Menace
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3 thoughts on “The Purple Menace

  • July 28, 2015 at 10:35 pm
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    When my grandparents first moved the Western Montana, my grandma picked a big bouquet of knapweed to put on the table, not knowing anything about it except that it was kind of pretty. Turns out, she was allergic to it, and it ended up being one of the few things my grandpa demonized more than Ronald Reagan,

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    • July 29, 2015 at 11:59 am
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      That is hilarious, Lisa! Now I am thinking of Reagan dancing through a field of knapweed.

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  • August 3, 2015 at 9:25 pm
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    You might try the extension office or state noxious weed information site. There probably will be information on more benign as well as herbicide methods of control. In the back country they pick the heads before the flowers come to seed. If it wasn’t so darn dry you might consider a propane tank with a hose, etc.

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