Wildflower or weed? Know before you spray
"All bets are off this year as far as how long the flowers are going to last it’s just so dry," muses Mindy Wheeler, a botanist and natural resource consultant who will be leading walks and lectures throughout Summit County’s "Weed Week."
"A lot of plants aren’t making their appearance this spring," she reports. "A lot are too smart for that and are saying ‘no way, not this year.’"
Yet, with a tiny magnifying glass hanging from her neck last week, Wheeler identifies several early bloomers in the northern half of the Swaner Nature Preserve, just past Interstate 80: the red, fierce blossom of Indian Paintbrush and an orange-red flower from a Sedum plant growing on a rock. A delicate violet blossom beneath the furry leaves of Lupine.
For Wheeler, it’s about protecting these wildflower species. "there are a lot of noxious weeds, but more importantly, there are a lot of plants we want to save out here."
Unfortunatey, sometimes the weed police, intending to spray noxious plants, end up targeting the wrong flora with their herbicides and pesticides the ones birds, deer and rodents need for supper, she says.
There are weeds, and then there are noxious weeds, and Wheeler defines "noxious" as those that harm the environment by overtaking ecological systems.
On a hike with Wheeler, Swaner’s Land and Education co-managers Nell Larson and Erin Spear explained that noxious plants trample the environment by their aggressive growth. If left on their own, noxious plants "crowd out" the plants that are nutritious for wildlife.
Those plants that are noxious, such as the yellow-flowered Dyer’s Woad, can therefore not be ignored simply because they are surrounded by a development, notes Larson.
"The seeds of weeds travel by wind and animals and they don’t know anything about property lines," says Spear.
The best way to restore a healthy meadow or backyard is to be preventative, according to Wheeler, which means being equipped with accurate information.
The Summit County Weed department has identified 25 weeds as noxious, but that’s only the beginning, says Wheeler. There are several plants that should be on the list that are not, including some very attractive flowers such as Ox-eye daisies, whose flower blooms with white petals and a yellow-buttoned center.
The flower has been declared noxious in states surrounding Utah, but within the state, it is growing quickly, f in riparian areas and stream corridors, Spear says, and can be found in native plant seed packets (though the Ox-eye Daisy is not native, says Wheeler 50 percent of the flowers in the U.S. were introduced as ornamentals from Europe.)
Unfortunately, many noxious weeds are pretty, confesses Wheeler, and until the plants are designated noxious by the state, it will likely continue to proliferate.
Wheeler will give a lecture entitled "Wildflower or Weed" at 7 p.m. at the Miners Hospital on Thursday, May 31. She will also lead two "Wildflower or Weed" walks at the Summit County Nature Preserve on Saturday, June 2, at noon and 1:30 p.m. during the Third Annual Swaner Nature Festival.
The Swaner Nature Preserve will additionally be exchanging large bags stuffed with Dyer’s Woad for $8 a piece. Bags are available at 1258 New Main Street. Call 649-1767 for details.
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