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6/11/2005

Musk Thistle & Poison Hemlock

Spring is a GREAT time of year! The mornings are clear and crisp and most evenings are about as nice as a fella could ever want. Of Course, there are the occasional thunderstorms that pop up, but if yer a true Kansas lad the thunderstorms are every bit as enjoyable as the morning dew. For all the enjoyment that spring has to offer there naturally has to be something that tempers all this good feeling. Actually, when it comes to weeds there are quite a few somethings.  
 
Two of the most bothersome for us are the Musk Thistle and Poison Hemlock. Musk Thistle is an invader that originally came from Europe. The thistle has very beautiful purple flowers and is quite a handsome plant, but it also spreads prolifically. When the flowers mature and “pop” seed thousands of little umbrella-like seeds scatter in the Kansas wind. The plants produce such a heavy crop of viable seed that if they are not controlled vast areas of range land can quickly become a thicket of prickly growth crowding and shading out the native grasses.  
 
So, each spring we venture forward with spade in hand to do battle with the formidable florescence. Musk Thistle is without a doubt a very formidable foe. One would almost think that it is very aware of the war that is taking place. The infested grounds are scoured each spring for growing plants. Every plant is dug from the ground, the flowers cut from the plant and guarded closely as though they were “prisoners of war”. I have found that just tying them up in a black plastic bag will cause them to ferment and decompose. Some people burn them. Don’t every leave a blossom lying on the pickup seat for in a few days it will have matured and white cotton umbrellas of seed spew forth like dandelions! The plants have an amazing proclivity for survival.  
 
Don’t ever think that one pass over a Musk Thistle site will be enough. We return often. Each time discovering new plants that are about to mature seed. Where were they the last time I was there? I am firmly convinced that they have the ability to “cloak” themselves with some sort of advanced Star Wars technology. I have actually dug a thistle only to turn and stumble onto another just to one side or another that I had somehow overlooked. Sometimes a scan of the territory that I have just passed over reveals one or two plants still waving in the breeze! It is a great mystery that virtually all hunters of the puzzling Musk Thistle experience. We’re holding them off, but they never give up! 
 
The Poison Hemlock is the object of my own personal mission to keep my property free of the pest. It is also a native of Europe. They say that the juice of the plant is the same that was used to poison Socrates. It is extremely prolific along creeks and streams but can show up about anywhere. It can grow in such dense populations that all other grasses and weeds around it are completely smothered out. Cattle won’t eat it which is lucky, cuz if they do they’re dead.  
 
I found out a long time ago that Poison Hemlock has one very important weakness. Its seed is only viable for two or three years. So… If ya don’t let it go to seed in an area for that many years it will die completely out. The only problem is that if the neighbors have it growing on ground nearby or that drains onto yours seed is continually recontaminating your ground. Luckily, I have no great populations of it on the ground that drains onto mine. So, all I have to do is keep an eye out for the occasional plant that might grow on the neighbor allowing it to become established.  
 
Even so, it seems that the darn plant is determined to get a foothold on my property. Every year I find several plants and in years past I have actually missed them and had a small population begin to take hold. Keeps me on my toes. Needless to say the spade is always within easy reach as I peruse the countryside this time of year. Too bad Bindweed couldn’t be handled so easily! 
So Long, 
The Cowboy 

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