Since we took possession of the farm in July, we’ve encountered with many problems related to weeds.
In July it was wild parsnip which can cause second degree burns if it touches your skin and you are then exposed to UVA light. And tansy which is poisonous to livestock and spreads not only by seed but underground as rhizomes. Then there were the thistles. When it was windy, we could just watch the thistle fluff float from west to east.
In August and September, burdock took center stage. Last weekend, we spent many hours whacking and stacking burdock and thistles into piles that we can later burn. Giant rag-weed that is eight to ten feet tall as well. Turns out that the burdock is actually killer burdock. We’ve inconveniently had to pick softball-sized masses of burrs from our clothing and once out of my hair, but nothing prepared me for finding a songbird that died, stuck to a cluster of burdock burrs and apparently unable to free itself. The burdock is stiff and when blooming, the spiny flowers are a vivid dark pink. Much like the native species of blazing star and purple prairie corn flower. Stiff stems, bright pink flowers, loved by butterflies, bees and birds. But the native plants are probably not lethal. Spiny, but more like a comb than like velcro.
Most of these invasive weeds probably came in on their own to over-grazed farmland which was then long-ignored. Some of them were planted intentionally. Last weekend, we were looking at a plant that I couldn’t identify growing in the small stream that flows from the spring. Imagine my dismay when I found part of a nursery plant marker tag that read “moneywort” when I realized my suspicion that it was an invasive weed AND that it was planted intentionally. We pulled it out of the stream for about 20 yards and watched the water cloud up briefly and then clear to expose the sandy, gravelly bottom of the stream. The water ran faster and the water level did fall, but if that is what is going to happen I guess it is natural. A little further down there is an old check dam. It’s surrounded by stinging nettles. I want to pull all of those and plant some blue flag irises. Native plants which would be natural in that habitat.
As the summer has advanced, there have also been some bright spots. Walking through one pasture toward the back of the property, we found a couple of bergamot plants. Even further back, away from where humans (and cattle) are likely to have gone too often, we found even more. We’ve also found common goldenrod, frost aster and calico aster as we head into fall. Sunday we walked around with some seed heads from purple prairie cone flower and tossed them about randomly. Those are so prolific, I really expect to see them germinate next year and bloom the following year. Then we collected some bergamot seeds and threw those around as well. I’m less certain that those will take hold without a bit more help. What a long project restoring this landscape to a more natural and diverse botanical community this is going to be. I never would have thought that my showy urban front yard prairie garden would turn out to be some of the nursery and seed bank for a much larger project, but apparently that is also how it is going to be.