Imagine that you were an evil scientist, tasked with genetically engineering a Dandelion to be an even more dastardly weed. You’d probably go through 3 steps:
First, you’d add thistles all over, to the leaves and stems, so that neither critters nor livestock could eat it, and that gardeners couldn’t yank it out of the ground bare-handed.
And third, while retaining the ray-flower-only structure of the composite flower, you’d dramatically increase the numbed of ray flowers- and hence seeds- per composite flower, and while doing so, you might as well make those flowers a real gaudy color, like hot pink.
NOTE 6/16/11: This post, written in the early days of the project when I was a Total Plant Rookie, contains a fairly big error: The flowers of C. nutans are disk-only, not ray-only. For some time I've meant to get around to updating the post and the "Step 3" graphic, and maybe/hopefully will at some point. The rest of the post and Dandelion - Musk Thistle comparisons are, to my knowledge, accurate.
You can’t travel a foothill trail in the Wasatch without noticing Musk Thistle; it’s fast-growing, distinctive, and painful to brush against. Musk thistle is native to- where else??- yes, Asia, and has spread across
Unlike Dandelions, Musk Thistle doesn’t reproduce asexually, but it readily self-pollinates. Most Musk Thistles support between 1 and 40 flower heads, compared with generally fewer than a dozen for a Dandelion, and large Musk Thistles can greatly exceed that number; the current record-holder was a 6-foot tall Musk Thistle sporting 643 flower heads. The larger Musk Thistle flowers produce over 1,000 seeds (though only 1/3 are typically viable, compared with ~50-175 seeds per Dandelion flower.
Musk Thistle is one of the first plants to start popping up after the snow melts and it thrives in a wide range of conditions- in
The spread of Musk Thistle, even in the short time (13 years) I’ve lived in
Tangent: When I lived in
When I visited the
Tangent: I notice this about 1/3 of the way up Desert Peak, and realized with a start that I hadn’t washed my boot soles before coming out there. It’s unlikely, but I hope dearly that I didn’t bring a seed along…
But amazingly, when I climbed the East slope of the
The scale, efficiency, adaptability and sheer voracity of Musk Thistle are impressive. But there’s something else impressive, though more subtle, about this plant: it appears to practice a form of reverse allelopathy. That is, when bits of Musk Thistle tissue are added to the soil, it actually fosters the germination and growth of new Musk Thistle seedlings. This seems to be at least part of the reason that it develops into such firmly-entrenched, impenetrable stands.
That’s it for weed week; fast-growing, invasive weeds are annoying and often harmful, but they’re generally successful for good reason, and understanding those reasons usually end up helping one see a little bit more of the Beauty of the World.
This’ll be the last post for a few days; tomorrow night I’m headed down South for a canyon-country backpack. I’ll be back mid-next week, and when I’ve caught up, I’ll zero in on Oak.