Or the Tale of the Supposedly Lovely Meadow Plant
Isn’t this a lovely green plant? Interesting, thorny and thistle-like with nectar for pollinators. Used in flower arrangements once dried. Wouldn’t you love to see this in your garden or meadow? NO! Don’t do it. If you find it, OFF WITH THEIR HEADS….
OK let me start at the beginning. About 5 years ago I saw this lovely flower growing. A friend said, “Oh we use these in flower arranging once they dry.” Great, so once my garden grows in, I can use this flower in arrangements (of course I never seem to cut flowers and make arrangements though).
The next year there were a couple more and a ton of weeds in every nook and cranny of the back gardens. They looked like the picture below. I was overrun, but by what?
No one knew, and I couldn’t find information on the weed anywhere. It was about 3 years ago that I began to see more of this plant in the meadow and more weeds in the garden although I had pulled so many (which was not fun since it has a long tap-root and I hurt my shoulder getting rid of them).
Common Teasel, an Unruly Weed
Then I discovered, 2 years ago, the plant was a Common Teasel or Dipsacus fullonum subsp. sylvestris. And that all the weeds I was finding were the teasel as it started to grow. So good now I know, and I’ll pull it where I see it. Wrong. That may help get rid of a first year plant, but everyone that was missed grew 6 feet tall and flowered the second year spreading 2000 seeds into every space around the mother plant while the mother plant died. So those tall teasel I pulled had already done their damage. And my meadow was inundated with one year old plants in yucky clay soil.
Well what could I do? I tried pulling them, but there were so many so I dug them and turned them over. That will kill them. WRONG! They just grew back and now this year we have a third of the meadow being overtaken by this plant.
Learning About Common Teasel
So it was time to learn a lot more about Common Teasel to thwart it. This plant was brought over in the early 1700s from Europe by wool manufacturers. They used the dried seed head to “tease” the wool cloth. In Europe, the seeds are a winter food for birds, and are often grown in gardens to attract birds. How interesting, but I need to kill this thug.
Common Teasel is considered invasive in many states, but not here in NY where it was once cultivated. It likes to grow in sun in wet to dry soil that is heavily disturbed like a roadside or my meadow which was excavated twice before we seeded it. They can be found in many open areas flowering from June to October. But don’t be mistaken it is invasive if it finds your garden, and a big threat to native plants.
See, Common Teasel creates a monoculture in no time and takes over crowding out all natives like those in my meadow. Seeds can be dispersed by birds, water, wind and highway equipment as the plants are mowed, especially in the late fall after the seeds mature. And seeds remain viable for up to 2 years so they may not appear right away.
So what is the best way to take care of Common Teasel if you see it?
In natural areas they suggest cutting, digging and burning. I would never burn an area, but we have been digging them up. What we discovered though is we dug them up too late after the seed matured or dispersed. If you can’t get them when they are a small one year plant, then wait until they send up a bud. Cut the bud off before it flowers and throw them away, especially if the flowers have opened. Seeds can even mature on flowering heads even after cut off so beware!
Of course you will have to keep on the lookout for the flower buds throughout the season. We go on a teasel hunt every week to take care of the ones that got away. And be careful because teasel are spiny and the leaves and stems can cut right through clothes and gloves.
Of course mine are growing in the midst of some nasty non-native thistle that needs to be pulled too, but that is for another day. And I am prepared to keep vigil for the next several years if necessary.
So now that we have several areas of the meadow that are completely bare, what will we do? First, we are spreading compost to make the soil more inviting for native plants. Then I hope to plant many volunteer Obedient plant and Joe Pye (pictured left) as well as spreading swamp milkweed and common milkweed seed. We may even try a few other flowers like helenium, cow parsnip, liatris, prairie smoke, fasle indigo, fireweed, culver’s root, coreopsis, shooting stars…oh the list could go on and on. For now I am mulling it over and making a plan.
And as we look at other weedy thugs that may be taking over areas of the meadow, we will do battle to reclaim them one section at a time.
“Only God can make a tree, but I’m in charge of seeds and weeds!” ~Author Unknown
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