Category: Weeds (page 1 of 4)

Suburban Weeds: the path

Near our house is a place we call “the path”. It’s a short stretch of paved path (from about 100 S to 500 S) next to the Lake Creek canal. Being near water, home landscapes, and a couple of ag fields it has quite the assortment of plants present.

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Suburban Weeds: the Jump-Off

For my first “suburban weeds” post, I thought it only appropriate that I focus on the place we fondly call “the jump-off”. A couple of blocks away from our house exists a vacant lot where some industrious youths have built all manner of dirt hills, wooden jumps, and other forms of biking entertainment. We visit the jump-off quite frequently, my three year old and I; not necessarily to ride our bikes (though she sometimes does that on the low hills), but to explore. It’s a great place for exploring. In addition to the bike track and jumps, there’s a ditch running through it, that depending on the water level in the canal just to the east, can either be dry as a bone or have enough water in it to get your feet wet.

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Suburban Weeds: Heber City

Weeds are funny things. By definition, they are “plants out of place”. But it is you – the gardener, the farmer, the recreationist, the observer – who decides whether it is “out of place” or not. One man’s weed is another’s wildflower. 

Sometimes enough people (land managers, weed scientists, etc.)  have decided that a certain plant poses enough of a problem that it gets extra designations such as “invasive” or “noxious”. If you want to learn more about the nitty-gritty of that, go check out my post on that by clicking here.

When I taught the weed identification and management lab at Utah State University I often told the students that they would be changed forever by taking the class. Only half-jokingly would I tell them that they wouldn’t be able to go anywhere again without seeing the weeds. I don’t know if that has actually happened with any of the students I taught, but I can say that it is 100% true of myself. Whether I’m hiking in the mountains or taking a walk around the neighborhood I notice the weeds. (I notice the other plants, too, but we’re just talking about weeds today.)

I’m not the only one who likes identifying plants though. There was a recent article in The Guardian about “rebel botanists” identifying the urban plants with chalk graffiti. Seeing the chalked names connects others with the plants that they might otherwise overlook.

And, really, that’s what this new “Suburban Weeds” project of mine is all about: connecting with this place I currently call home. As I’m out on walks around town I’ll take note of the weeds, sometimes photos, and then share those with you here. As I notice more weeds in the future, I’ll update those posts, but you can always refer back to this page for the links to the places I’ve been and the weeds I’ve seen.

Suburban Weeds: the Jump-Off

Thanks to Daniel Murphy of AwkwardBotany.com for the inspiration for this project.

Missing the Weeds

(All of the photos included in this post are from a visit we made one Saturday in February to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. That visit helped spur some of these thoughts.)

When I taught the weeds lab at USU I would (somewhat) jokingly tell people that this class would change their life. And year after year by the end of the semester students would tell me that the class had indeed ruined changed their life; they couldn’t go anywhere without seeing weeds. I would tell them – like I’m telling you now – that it really isn’t such a bad thing. I’m always noticing and pointing them out wherever I go. Weeds are fascinating plants, and the study of them is interesting work.

We saw a bald eagle while we were parked and enjoying our “car picnic”; i.e., a picnic in the car because 28 F is too darn cold to be picnicking outside.

Each year at this time there is a Western Society of Weed Science (WSWS) Conference. I attended the conference for 7 years, presenting on various research projects I had been involved in, and I’m feeling a little sad about not being there this year. So, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll take some time here to talk about some of the work that I’ve found most interesting during my years as a weed science researcher.

While I can identify and tell you about many weeds of landscape and agricultural settings, my real expertise is in weeds of natural areas. One of my major focuses was weed mapping; detecting and then describing weed infestations in a spatial/visual manner – a map. When explaining the idea of weed mapping to others we often compare it to a medical diagnosis and treatment. Without having the proper diagnosis (a weed map telling you what weeds you have and where they are located) it is hard, if not impossible, to prescribe an appropriate treatment (management plant).

Tundra swans! (With some phragmites, a problematic weed in areas like this, in the foreground.)

My weed identification skills are much better than my bird identification skills, but I’m 99% certain this is a great blue heron.

Over the years the USU weed science group has worked with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on weed mapping projects. And through it all, the aim was never to just create maps to give back to these agencies, but to also improve our methods. How can we be more efficient, yet still effective? How do emerging technologies – like drones – play into the detection process? How do we know which species we should focus our efforts on? And how can we know where to focus our searches so we’re using limited budgets wisely?

In a joint project with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we attempted to answer some of those questions. Throughout that process I got to work at four different wildlife refuges: San Diego NWR, Middle Mississippi NWR, Ruby Lake NWR, and the San Juan Islands NWR. In addition to those visits, I also got to travel and conduct workshops at three other refuges (Kern NWR, San Pablo Bay NWR, and Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes NWR) teaching them how to use the decision-making tool we’d developed.

One of the ways the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge manages the land – both for managing weeds as well as for desired vegetation for bird habitat – is through burning and seasonal flooding.

Each of those refuges had their own challenges – the San Juan Islands, for example, are islands and only some-what accessible, even with a boat – but they all had one thing in common. At each refuge we met passionate scientists, dedicated to making their little corner of the world, and the land in their stewardship, better. And that interaction with other scientists is probably what I miss most about not working full-time any more. And it is definitely what I miss most this week when many of my former colleagues are at the WSWS meetings.

In the meantime, I’ll keep noticing and pointing out the weeds (and whatever other plants catch my eye). And I’ll keep spending time in those natural areas I have come to love even more through knowing their weeds.

The (vivacious, spunky, energetic) reason I don’t currently work full-time as a weeds researcher. Watching her learn and explore the world is worth missing all the conferences.

Winter Waiting

(Here’s your friendly reminder to sign up for my now-quarterly newsletter. The first issue for the year goes out next week and will help you get garden-ready for spring. For some reason the subscribe info is not showing up on mobile, so until I figure that out you’ll have to do it from a laptop or desktop.)

My two year old loves holidays of any kind, so I’ve been telling her about groundhog’s day. It must have stuck because yesterday on our walk she started talking about “in the springtime the groundhog will come out of the ground and look around!” Well, today is the day, and I guess the groundhog didn’t see his shadow. So I guess it’s six more weeks until spring? Regardless, here in my zone 5b garden we are still under a “thick blanket of snow”, just like the city of Geopolis (we’ve also been reading Katy and the Big Snow a lot at our house lately, in case you’re wondering). But just because we’re still under snow – with more in the forecast – it doesn’t mean that plants aren’t growing and getting ready for spring. Continue reading

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