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Knapweed: To Pull Or To Spray - That Is The Question



Photo courtesty of Lenard Sanders

There was a shocked silence at the other end of the phone. Then Graham, the Forestry officer, tried to explain. "But, Trudy," he persisted, "we have beetles to eat the knapweed roots, flies to attack the leaves, bugs to chomp on the seeds." "Yes, yes, "I interrupted," but this outbreak is serious. Isn't there a herbicide you can spray?" "Spray", sputtered Graham, who's known me for years. "Spray? Trudy, what's happened to you?"

A fair question. Generally I mistrust pesticides. My theory is that any pest, which can't be picked off or pulled up, will admit defeat under a squirt of Safer's Soap. This natural attitude toward gardening conflicts with that of my hiking partner.
He and Monsanto stand shoulder-to-shoulder ridding the planet of pests. His weed-free acreage could sport a sign, 'Compliments of Dow Chemical.' I mow my dandelions only when a mob of neighbours is gesturing at them and grumbling.
As you can imagine, when we discovered knapweed in our favourite hiking places we had heated discussions on how to treat it. "Roundup!" he insisted. "Hand-pulling!" I retorted.

I'm not sure if it was my reasoned arguments or raised eyebrow, curled lip and censorious glare, which converted him. However, he capitulated and for several seasons we handpicked knapweed, congratulating each other. Not only were we ecological examples, we were keeping the knapweed at bay.

Then came millennium summer. Fields of knapweed bloomed where the only previous purple flowers were mariposa lilies. "Be careful what you wish for. You might get it!", I muttered to myself as yet another Sunday hike turned into a knapweed pulling expedition.

As anyone who's tried to pull it knows, knapweed does not 'go gentle into that good night.' Its roots seem to twine firmly round Precambrian rock. We tried using shears. Better, but still slow going. I work during the week and there was too much knapweed to deal with on Sunday campaigns.

My friend opted for stronger measures. Mystified backcountry travelers spoke in hushed tones of seeing a man grimly pushing a lawn mower across the grasslands, knapweed falling in swaths before him.

He went out to do daily battle with the invader. The faithful lawn mower ran into trouble, (so many boulders, so few blades), and was replaced by a heavy-duty weed-whacker.

There were weekly reports. "It's waist high along Gurgling Creek and choking Vaccinium Valley!" At last the day came when he was certain he'd done it, vanquished all the accessible plants. That Sunday we went out to inspect and rejoice.

Talk about tenacity! Those cut down plants had each managed to put up just one more shoot, about 4 cm. tall. Hectares of them. All in flower! I phoned Forestry the next day.

Footnote:

Not long ago Knapweed, that invasive threat to native plants, was unheard of here in the Thompson Nicola region. Could its spread have been checked? One man tried.

In 1960 Harry Hazelwood, a young Pinantan rancher, warned a meeting of the Pinantan - Pemberton Livestock Association about Knapweed. There was a small patch of it, he said, beside the Pemberton Range Road and it should be destroyed. Otherwise the road grader would pick it up and spread it. "That's bad stuff you know", he continued. "Once you get it, it's hard to get rid of. We'll all have it!"

Government money was scarce in 1960. Besides, no one really knew much about knapweed. Maybe it wasn't so bad.

Forty years later it has spread throughout the Kamloops region and we know its tenacity is unsurpassed.

Harry Hazelwood's forecast was absolutely right.

(Trudy is a freelance writer living in Kamloops, B.C.)


Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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