Weed is pretty, evil | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Weed is pretty, evil

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Want to make an agricultural biologist cringe?

Show them a garden of spotted knapweed.

An El Dorado County survey team last week found two groups, 700 to 800 plants each, of the weed at the edge of Kiowa Drive in Meyers.

Kirk Taylor, a senior agricultural biologist, stood over it Tuesday and eyed the weeds like a sheriff would eye a gunslinger at high noon.

“Our biggest hurdle is getting people to understand the plants are a problem,” Taylor said. “Even though it’s beautiful, it will cause problems down the road if we don’t eradicate it.”

The plant, native to eastern Europe, has spread to more than 4 million acres in Montana.

While the plant produces beautiful purple flowers, it’s bad because it squeezes native plants from an ecosystem. Its seeds remain viable up to 10 years, so even if it’s treated with herbicide, or cut, bagged and burned, the weed may pop up years later, Taylor said.

A spotted knapweed dominates areas where it takes root, partly because it excretes a substance that kills the plants it competes with.

Its root system isn’t an ecological attribute either. The weed sucks nutrients from the soil with a taproot, which can speed erosion because it doesn’t hold soil as effectively as do the fibrous roots of native plants.

On Tuesday, Taylor asked Joyce Gibson, a longtime South Shore resident, for permission to spray spotted knapweed in front of her house with a herbicide to kill it.

“I would love to have you do it,” Gibson said.

Gibson said she didn’t know the plant was a problem weed until the county stuck a flier in her mailbox last week. Gibson said she is responsible for its presence because she intentionally brought some of plant with her from Virginia City. She wanted the purple flowers to grow next to her house.

“I think I encouraged them because they’re pretty,” she said.

El Dorado County is one of the most proactive counties in the state in battling invasive weeds. Its Department of Agriculture began tracking the tall whitetop, another problem weed at Lake Tahoe Basin, more than two years ago.

This summer, funded by $150,000 of state grant money, TASK, the Tahoe Area South Knapweed team will comb the roads of South Shore in an attempt to spot invasive weeds.

“We’re getting off the side roads and primary roads and just looking for those weeds,” Taylor said.

A problem weed at Placerville is yellow starthistle, said Bill Snodgrass, El Dorado County agriculture commissioner. Like knapweed, it dominates an ecosystem, plus, it grows inch-long spikes.

Snodgrass said seeds from invasive weeds are traveling from Nevada down Highway 50 to South Shore and Placerville. Starthistle has been spotted at Alpine County and knapweed has been spotted along Highway 50 past Echo Summit. Snodgrass said early detection of the weeds is the answer.

“The more eyes we have out looking the more effective we’ll be,” Snodgrass said.

Anyone who thinks they’ve found an infestation of spotted knapweed, or another invasive weed such as tall whitetop, should call the El Dorado County Department of Agriculture at (530) 621-5520 or the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension at (775) 784-4848.

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