Thistles can be a thorny issue for rural landowners

Free Press / Janae Rempel<p>This bull thistle is almost indistinguishable from the more noxious musk thistle?at least at first glance. Both have the purple blossom and thorny leaves.<p>

?That?s the old common thistle blooming out there right now, not the musk thistle,? said one local person.

?That?s the old bull thistle,? added his friend. ?There?s been a lot of rain this year, so it?s been a good year for it, too. But you don?t need to worry about getting rid of it unless you just don?t want it around.

?It?s been with us a long, long time,? he added.

And they were both exactly wrong, said Bud Druse, noxious weed director for Marion County.

It is true, Druse said, that both bull thistle and Canadian thistle have been around since the 1960s, but they are invaders from Europe, Asia and North Africa.

Musk thistle blooming season begins in late May and ends in July. Bull thistle and Canadian thistle are late-summer and fall bloomers that began flowering in August.

Musk thistle, which can take over large areas of pasture and fields, repelling cattle from grazing with its thorny stems and leaves, is officially a noxious weed in Kansas that the state requires counties and land owners to eliminate.

According to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, ?Noxious weeds are one of the greatest threats to the Kansas environment. They displace native plant species, interfere with the production of agricultural crops, increase erosion, destroy wildlife habitat and decrease property values.

Druse said Canadian and bull thistles are becoming bigger problems, but counties have the option of declaring them to be noxious weeds, or of simply allowing landowners to choose whether to do anything about them.

Druse strongly recommends that landowners get rid of both species because, especially in a wet year like this, they are rapidly expanding their growth area.

One species of truly native thistle in Kansas is known as wavyleaf thistle or gray thistle, Druse said. It is native to most of central and western North America.

As implied by the name, the leaves are wavy, and both the leaves and the pink, white or lavender flowers tend to branch out higher the stem.

Extension literature from nearly all states refers only to the bull thistle and how to get rid of it.

An exception was Okla?homa State University, which reported there may be as many as a dozen different ?purple-flowered, spiny varieties of thistles? in the state.

Oklahoma scientists also reported that introduced European musk thistle weevils that prey on thistle have helped reduce the population of the plant particularly in northeastern Oklahoma.

Druse said the Canadian thistle is more difficult to get rid of than the bull thistle, and requires a person to dig into the ground to get the root instead of merely removing flower heads if disposing of flowers manually.

For spraying with herbicide, he said the county prefers to use 2,4-D, and he recommends it in nearly all cases.

Although it used to be recommended that thistles be disposed of by burning them or sacking them in trash bags, Druse prefers that they not be placed in county Dumpsters, where the bags can accidentally be broken.

Instead he recommends they be taken in bags directly to the transfer station with workers there being told what?s in the bags. The bags can then safely be buried in a landfill, he said.

Druse said the two thistles can be differentiated from each other by blooming habits.

The Canadian thistle, he said, blooms in tight bunches of the lavender flowers, while the bull thistles has 3 inches or more between flowers.

Either one of them have the thorny stems and leaves also evident with musk thistle.

Even if bull thistles and Canadian thistles aren?t defined as noxious weeds here, Druse said, ?I?d get rid of them all.?

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