A flower garden full of weeds
SUMMIT COUNTY – Gardeners can’t purchase the yellow flower “butter and eggs” in any store in Summit County, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be found.
The flower resembles a snapdragon, with soft, yellow petals and a deep orange center. Some gardeners like it because it will grow in wet or dry conditions, in all types of soil, and it spreads easily – about 15 percent a year.
County weed warriors Paul Schreiner and Lisa Taylor hate the weed for the same reasons the gardners love it.
Immigrants brought butter and eggs – known in botanical circles as yellow toadflax – to the United States to remind them of the countries they left behind. It was first identified in the 1800s on the East Coast and has since spread west.
Yellow toadflax has no natural predators to keep it in check here. Therefore, it nudges out native species, which in turn leads to a loss of insects, then rodents and predators.
And the weed is hard to eradicate, Schreiner said.
“Yellow toadflax is a serious invader of pristine areas around the county,” he said. “Right now, there are several thousand acres affected by this weed, and we’ve found no good way to control it. It will have widespread effects on Summit County’s native ecosystem.”
Another ornamental species creating problems around Summit County is dame’s rocket, a popular flowering plant sold in “native wildflower” plant mixes.
“It’s anything but native,” Schreiner said. “It poses a serious threat for wetlands and riparian areas.”
Dame’s rocket has long been touted as deer-resistant, so people have planted the pink flowers around vegetable gardens to keep them away.
But the plant then spreads, outcompetes the native plants on which deer forage and eventually leaves the deer population with minimal grazing land.
Oxeye daisy, a native of Eurasia, has also become a troublesome weed in the West. It’s transplanted as an ornamental despite its tendency to crowd out more desirable vegetation.
False chamomile, while similar in appearance to the oxeye daisy, is also a noxious weed that has become widespread along bike paths, roadways and other areas where humans have disturbed the soil.
A new invader that has yet to show up in Summit County is purple loosestrife, which has been found in the Denver and Grand Junction areas.
But “it’s heading this way,” Schreiner cautioned. “This plant will crowd out nearly every native in its path.”
The plant, also released as an ornamental on the East Coast, has taken over riparian areas throughout the nation. Infestations are often traced upstream to flower gardens.
“While in the garden it poses little threat because of the intensive management that gardens normally get,” Schreiner said. “But once outside of the garden, these plants basically take an area over, leaving nesting waterfowl without suitable habitat to rear young and leaving fish with few spawning grounds.”
New offenders are invading the state every year, in the air, via waterways or the wheels of the millions of cars that cross Colorado. Many will, at first, seem harmless, and by the time they are recognized as a problem, they will have become well-established and difficult or impossible to eradicate.
Some of them include African rue, a succulent herb with five-petaled white flowers that grow individually along the stems; camelthorn, a spiny shrub with single wedge-shaped leaves and small, pea-like flowers that range in color from purple to maroon; and squarrose knapweed, with rose-colored flowers.
“We’ve unleashed these monsters upon ourselves,” Schreiner said. “We have to do what we can to limit their spread.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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