Fight continues against noxious and invasive weeds

“Pulling dandelions is harmless”

What may look like a field of yellow pasques or white alyssums from afar could really be, on closer inspection, yellow toadflax and daisies—more commonly referred to as weeds.



But not all weeds are necessarily bad, and some have beautiful flowers. The weeds that have wildflower viewers, plant scientists and town councils concerned are those that are considered invasive.
Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory science director Dr. Jennifer Reithel says the term “weed” in a general sense means a plant that someone does not want in their yard. Therefore scientists start with the term “non-native plant”—plants that are introduced from another part of the world.
“Some non-native plants are harmless because they stay put and do not spread (e.g. vegetables in the garden). Other non-natives are very common, but they are relegated to relatively disturbed areas (e.g. dandelions),” Reithel says.
“Pulling dandelions is harmless. You can pull dandelions for your own aesthetic reasons, but as a scientist, they don’t bother me. It’s extremely unlikely that they are going to take over a pristine wildflower meadow. They are usually found in relatively disturbed sites.”
The more problematic “non-native” plants, Reithel says, are those that can also be considered invasive. Invasive plants “establish not only in disturbed areas, but in undisturbed habitats. They outcompete native plants and form monocultures. If invasive plants are allowed to spread, they will squeeze out the native plants,” Reithel says.
Not only can invasive species take over a whole meadow of wildflowers, Reithel says, there is some evidence that certain invasive species actually change the chemical composition of the soil, making it harder for native plants to grow back.
With the title of Wildflower Capital of Colorado since the late 1980s, the communities of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte are taking steps to ensure that the area doesn’t become the “invasive species” capital, too.
Crested Butte town manager Susan Parker says the town currently hires a certified weed removal service, Jim Barry of J-Dot Barry Custom Weed Control, to treat town rights of way and public areas like parks. Two years ago the town also tried a test program using goats as a natural way to eradicate weeds, but that was unsuccessful.
Parker says the town staff presented the council with a draft weed plan several months ago to encourage private property owners to join the fight against invasive weeds, but the plan was not passed. Instead, the council assigned town planner John Hess to head an invasive weed committee to form recommendations to the Town Council about how to deal with weeds on private property.
Hess says there are currently four volunteers on the committee and they have made some minor changes to the plan. Some of their suggestions included having construction equipment power washed to prevent weeds spreading from one construction site to another, using techniques such as solarizing and weed matting to eliminate weeds, and compiling a list of native grasses recommended for re-seeding.
Hess says the weed management plan should be back before the council next month.
Up in Mt. Crested Butte a weed committee has also been created. The committee formed a weed removal program to encourage the town and its residents to eradicate all the invasive weeds. The town approved the weed removal program in early 2008 and later that year bought a truck mounted herbicide sprayer. Shortly thereafter the Town Council passed an ordinance where a property owner can be charged for weed removal on their land if, after warnings, they do not remove the weeds themselves.
However, town manger Joe Fitzpatrick says due to budget constraints the program has been cut back some. He says the town can’t really afford to be sending anyone to inspect private property for weeds.
This year Fitzpatrick says the town is limited to applying herbicide on some of the rights of way (town roads). He says there are a few areas where homeowners have requested that the town not use a chemical spray to kill weeds.
Overall Fitzpatrick says the town has been making good progress in the fight against weeds. “One of the things we did last fall and are doing now is seeding a lot. If we eradicate an area we’ll reseed it immediately to try and get native grasses coming back… The rain is really helping that seed,” Fitzpatrick says.
Reithel says the efforts the towns and townspeople are making are important, but a lot of work remains before invasive weeds will be less of a threat to the local wildflowers.
Reithel says even if you don’t have time to spray or pull weeds, you can make a good start by removing the flowers of the weeds and preventing seeds from spreading. Washing your car, hiking boots and bike also helps prevent weeds from spreading, as some weeds can grow from rhizomes—fragments of plant matter.
RMBL is having a workshop on Invasive Plant Research on July 16. There will also be a plant identification workshop on August 11 and a Weed Pulling Day on August 13 at RMBL. For more information visit or call 349-7746.

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