Landowners, county have a sticky problem
The same wet winter and spring that has produced abundant grass and foliage has also produced an abundant crop of musk thistle, causing landowners to spend a lot of time and money controlling them.
Musk thistle is an invasive weed that crowds out native species and livestock forage. The thorny, purple-flowering plant was brought to America from Eurasia and was first reported in 1852. It blooms from June through October, and one plant can produce 11,000 seeds. It’s spiny foliage makes it unsuitable for livestock.
Farmers and cattlemen are required by law to control the thistle’s spread. They spend a lot of time scouting their pastures for the noxious plants. They pull heads and dig up the plants or spray them with chemical to kill them.
Counties are responsible for keeping road rights of way free of musk thistle.
The Marion County Noxious Weed Department is responsible for making sure landowners comply with the law.
Superintendent Bud Druse said he is on the lookout for musk thistle when he drives county roads. He also relies on citizens to file complaints about untreated thistles.
If he gets a complaint, he goes out, investigates, and takes pictures. He then sends out a letter to the landowner. If the matter isn’t addressed, it is submitted to the court as a “forced control.” Druse hires someone to destroy the plants or does it himself, and his office bills the landowner. If the bill isn’t paid, it is added to the owner’s property taxes.
Druse said musk thistles are prolific this year because last year’s drought produced bare ground where grass dried off, producing fallow ground for musk thistle to sprout and grow.
He and his assistant, Brandi Ankenman, were out in a field yesterday, pulling heads and digging up plants for a man who wasn’t able to do it. The man had called and requested help after receiving a letter. He said he would pay the bill.
“Last week, we went out and pulled thistles off of plants,” he said. “I spent two more days out there myself, and then I went out this morning and sprayed what we pulled thistles off of.
“We pulled four 55-gallon drums of heads off of those thistles out there.”
While they were working Friday, Druse received calls from six people who reported thistle patches they had seen.
Landowners can obtain spray at the noxious weed department at a reduced cost. Druse said he doesn’t like to leave the office unattended, but if that happens, contact numbers are posted on the door and arrangements can be made.
Thistles start as rosettes on the ground. Druse said he has seen musk thistles ranging in height from 18 inches to 8 feet, the taller ones having 12 to 18 heads.
Just pulling heads off isn’t enough, Druse said, because the plant still has enough sap to send out more heads. It needs to be cut off one inch below the ground.
Seeds mature in seven to 10 days after flowering. The head bursts open, scattering seed on the ground or releasing it to the wind to disperse everywhere.
Druse said he doesn’t have many problems with landowners. For the most part, they are willing to comply. After all, it is economically to their benefit to control the weed. It competes with grass for light, space, nutrients, and water.
Bull thistles are also common to this area.
They look similar to musk thistle but are distinguished by leaves that have a white, woolly underside. They are not invasive.
The Canada thistle is an invasive species but is not as common as musk thistle in this area. It has slender, grooved stems and branches only at the top. Landowners are required to destroy it when found.
One of the dangers of eradicating musk thistles is ticks. Druse didn’t mention problems this year, but he noted numerous problems last fall.
“There were at least seven or eight ticks on each one of us,” he said. “We sprayed ourselves down, but . . . it’s just like the weeds. The bugs are getting immune to the spray.
“They always say you can tie your pant legs shut. That doesn’t work. Those ticks can get anywhere.”
Last modified June 20, 2019