As a hiker and photographer, the wet spring and summer has been somewhat of a mixed bag. On one hand, if you're a sunny day kind of
hiker like me, the rainy weather puts a damper on being outdoors. On the other, as a nature and landscape photographer, the rainy weather has made for a bumper crop of wildflowers to enjoy and photograph.
But as with anything else there are downsides to explosive plant growth, and that is the proliferation of noxious and invasive weeds. You've seen them; the tall, ugly mullein weed, or the cleverly disguised knapweed, toadflax or musk thistle. They always show up around here, but a wetter than normal spring and summer have made them seem more prevalent.
I’ve also noticed that other hikers have been pulling weeds, mostly mullein, out of the ground, presumably in an effort to help eradicate them. Curious as to why we’re seeing so many weeds and whether hikers pulling them helps control weeds or merely spreads them around even more, I contacted Tina Travis
, Environmental Technician and noxious weeds expert for El Paso County’s Environmental Division
. According to Travis, noxious weeds survive regardless of weather, and tend to do better than more desirable plants in any climate or condition.
“Noxious weeds are always non-native to the U.S.,” says Travis. "[Non-native weeds] have no natural biological controls, so they have to be brought in or created." Travis says the process to create controls can take up to 50 years, and it’s important that they don’t also damage the desired native plants. If unintended damage does occur, the process of creating a control has to start over again.
As for hikers yanking noxious weeds out of the ground, Travis says it's only effective for mullein weed, and only during specific stages of the plant's life cycle. Once the mullein stores it seeds in the tiny yellow flowers at the top of it’s long stalk and the flowers have bloomed, anything done to disturb the plant, like pulling it out of the ground, actually spreads the seeds.
This weeks blog in the Colorado Springs Independent answers the question: Should you pull noxious weeds, or not?Posted by Hiking Bob on Friday, August 7, 2015
Toadflax, musk thistle, knapweed and other noxious weeds spread via their hearty root systems and pulling them out won't stop them from coming back.
Along with the weeds, If you’ve spent time in our parks and open spaces, you’ve no doubt seen large swaths of trees that appear to be dead — and lot of furry caterpillars. The trees have been defoliated by a combination of the tussock moth caterpillar and the western spruce budworm, according to city forester Dennis Will.
Will says the native insects are always around, but do relatively little damage due to their small numbers. This year, though, the same wet, cool weather that has been responsible for rampant wildflower
and weed growth has also increased the number of these and other insects.
The good news is that the trees aren’t dead — plans are already in the works to spray a natural bacterium next summer that will kill the insects and prevent further damage. And due to the mild weather we’ve had, the trees have enough reserves to bounce back. As the tussock moth caterpillars continue to go dormant, there are already signs of trees beginning to re-foliate.
Here's more from Dennis Will, when he gave the Indy
a closer look at what's been ailing city trees earlier this year:
Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor and business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for over 23 years. He is the president of the Friends of Cheyenne Canon and a member of the El Paso County Parks Advisory Board. You can follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: firstname.lastname@example.org.