Thursday, July 8, 2021

Unpleasant discoveries

Sometimes it seems we're living in paradise here in our new home. We simply couldn't be happier.

But paradise, as should abundantly clear, doesn't exist on this earth. This was brought home by the unpleasant discovery of two nasty weeds.

The first is Common Hound's Tongue. I'd never seen this branched piece of woe before, and at first it seemed charming: a tall stately plant with delicate flowers.

But then it formed its seeds, and let me tell you, they're nasty. My reference book "Northwest Weeds"...

...describes the seeds as "four nutlets having short multi-hooked bristles," and that's putting it mildly.

Look at this monster:

Each cluster of "nutlets" has its own built-in spike. Can't you see these getting tangled in dog fur?

We've seen small quantities of hound's tongue growing in our pasture (as well as alongside the road), and we'll start yanking it out by the roots from now on, now that we know what it is.

I made the second discovery a few days ago when I spotted something so distressing that it literally stopped me in my tracks and I groaned out loud: star thistle.

This invasive weed has taken over vast swaths of California and Oregon. For the first 17 years we lived at our old place in Idaho, we rejoiced that we never saw so much as a single thorn of star thistle. To see it here was dismaying beyond words.

But there's hope. What I spotted were some isolated plants by the side of the road. I plucked every last plant out ("Die, suckers, die!") and will continue to do so as we spot them.

If we see star thistle sprouting in our pasture, we won't hesitate to use herbicides to control it. Normally I prefer to take an organic approach to homesteading, but star thistle is nothing to mess around with.

On a happier note, a few days ago I spotted yet another invasive weed, but this one made me smile: Queen Anne's lace (wild carrot). I hadn't seen this since I was a child in western New York State, where it grew abundantly in roadsides. I've always loved it.

When the girls were young, I used to read them a poem called Queen Anne's Lace by Mary Leslie Newton:

Queen Anne, Queen Anne, has washed her lace
(She chose a summer day)
And hung it in a grassy place
To whiten, if it may.

Queen Anne, Queen Anne, has left it there,
And slept the dewy night;
Then waked, to find the sunshine fair,
And all the meadows white.

Queen Anne, Queen Anne, is dead and gone
(She died a summer's day),
But left her lace to whiten on
Each weed-entangled way!

Queen Anne's lace is just as invasive a species as hound's tongue or star thistle, but tough patooties. I'm delighted to see it.


  1. I know Common Hound's Tongue as Beggar's Lice. They stick tight to socks, shoe strings, pants and anything else one could wear. We hated getting into those because picking them off is difficult and time consuming.

  2. Those thorns look Nasty! We have some nasty weeds here on the ridge, but none nearly as nasty as those in Florida, thank goodness! I do agree with you, that Queen Anne Lace is pretty, just not in in our hay field!

  3. I am soooo with you on star thistle. The only good thing about it, is the smell.

  4. We never heard of Hound's Tongue until our neighbor pointed it out at our new place and told us to pull it up roots and all. Queen Ann's lace is blooming all over right now and I think it is beautiful, too.

  5. Pull out Queen Anne's Lace some time and smell the roots. Yep, carrot. I've always wondered if they were edible.

  6. I love Queen Anne's Lace. You can make jelly from it.

  7. I have tried pulling hounds tongue for years. It always grows back. It’s a biennial so the flowering plants are second year. It’s highly toxic to horses, which I have. I’ve been watching it spread in the neighbors pasture so this year I went to the county weed and pest and purchased the appropriate chemical to fight it. I’m gearing up to spray the first year plants that are showing up. I drug a garbage bag around and cut off the seed heads of the second year plants that died after spraying but developed seeds anyway.
    I prefer natural methods but hounds tongue and leafy spurge defy my efforts.
    When we lived in Saint Maries, the pasture was almost covered in Queen Anne’s Lace with huge patches of Tansy. I have a much different opinion than you of that weed. ; )

  8. Kill them all.

    My father spent many years, including using herbicide, to rid his property of star thistle. He would take walks with his hoe in hand in the evenings, look for stragglers.

  9. Make sure you identify what you are dealing with. There are similarities between wild carrot and Poison Hemlock. The latter is spreading quickly around here. We special ordered a chemical for waterways to combat it among our cattails. Spray is expensive. We also fight Purple Loosetrife, Leafy Spurge, Henbane, Wormwood, a few varieties of Thistle, and others. At least we don't have Salt Cedar (yet). We have a lot of our weeds under control, but it is an annual battle. For people getting a new piece of property and moving out of town the sooner you get any nasties under control the less time and money you will invest dealing with them each year.

    1. You're absolutely right. We had poison hemlock all over our pasture when we lived in Oregon. It's tall and has purple blotches on the trunk, so it's easy to identify once you know its characteristics.

      - Patrice

  10. Queen Anne's Lace brings back memories! I too grew up in western New York where it was common. As children we would pick the flowers and put them in a glass of water with food coloring. We were delighted when the flowers turned blue, or red from the coloring.

  11. You may wish to check and see if you have any non-profit groups in your area whose mission it is to assist with invasive species. We have one in our area--The Blue Ridge PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species and they provide a wealth of information and guidance on handling these nasties. They are involved in some amazing projects, including one to use a special drone to map large swaths of forest to see where the specific bad plants are to more easily target the worst areas.

    Invasives can overtake areas and crowd out native plants thereby having an affect on insects and other creatures. If you end up having to spray for Star Thistle, you might want to include a harmless die in the spray which helps to see where and how much has been sprayed.

  12. Another nasty one to look out for is Tansy. It's bi-annual, grows tall and has small, dandilion like flowers. Very aggressive grower, and highly toxic to livestock.

    Never a dull moment living the rural lifestyle! ;-)