Monday, June 18, 2007

Hometurf War Averted

Yesterday I thought I was going to to speak.

It started innocently enough. Yesterday morning, Prairiewolf casually asked me why I wasn't worrying about the goathead plants that were cropping up in the yard, especially over by the dog kennels.

I asked, "What goatheads? I haven't seen any goatheads." (For those of you not familiar with these formidable plants, they are insignificant in appearance but produce a small, strongly thorned seedhead capable of doing significant damage to feet, bicycle tires and even car and truck tires. They are NOT a plant that I want increasing the biodiversity of my yard.)

He replied, "Those plants with the tiny purple flowers. They haven't formed their seed heads yet, but they're goatheads."

"Hmmm. Okay. I never paid attention to what the plant looked like. I've just cussed them out when I've stumbled into them before."

"Oh, yeah, that's them. I can remember my younger brother getting stuck in a 10' wide patch of them when we had just moved out to the campground."

"Well, we'd better get busy then. Let's try pulling them, then switch to Roundup if that doesn't work."

So that was our plan of action. It briefly flashed through my mind that I ought to doublecheck Prairiewolf's identification, but no, he's the Kansas country boy and he's usually very good about plant and animal identifications. I spent 45 minutes pulling the purple flowered plant (and a few other weeds), then we both went back out later yesterday and spent another 30 minutes pulling a bunch more.

This morning I was planning on starting to work on the front flower bed, but noticed several large patches of the infamous plant in the driveway when I went out to get my tools. That led to 2 hours of concentrated weeding in the gravel, until my fingers got so sore that I had to quit. The entire time I worked, I mulled over the post that I would make. "The Goathead Wars Commence" was my working title.

Once I got inside, showered, and poured myself some water, I sat down to start writing. I started out by googling "goathead" to see what I could find out about the plant's origins and biology.

Imagine my surprise when my prewar intelligence turned out to be totally false. The flowers on goatheads are yellow, the leaves are dark green and they rather flatly arranged opposite each other on the vines, which are up to 3' in length. None of the pictures or descriptions matched my infamous enemy, as previously identified.

I called Prairiewolf at work.

"Well, I know they are a sticker of some sort. Maybe they are sandburs," he said.

I googled "sandbur". No dice. It's a grass, and the mystery purple-flowered plant obviously is not.

I tried googling various combinations of small purple-flowered weed in Kansas, but nothing showed up. I tried looking in some of my Kansas wildflower books. I found the thistles I've been wondering about, but not my mystery plant. It looks like a weedy verbena, but I'll have to chase it further.

So I've declared a truce for now, while I try to figure out what this plant is. Until I see it seed out, I'm not willing to declare it a noncombatant, but full out maneuvers against it have been called off.

Thanks goodness I was able to find the good sense to check my facts, and the moral courage to change my plan of action when my original understanding proved unnecessary war averted.

P.S. As an act of contrition, Prairiewolf did a more thorough google search than I had done and found the plant's identity: Verbena bracteata, prostrate vervain. It does not form a sticker. It does, however, live in very much the same habitat as the notorious goathead, probably leading to his confusion as a boy.

Prairiewolf also wants me to let everyone know that we managed all of this without any people being accidentally shot, in the face or otherwise.

The goathead war has been cancelled for lack of a true enemy. Wouldn't it be nice if we were certain of all our important facts before we started real wars?

1 comment:

Matt said...

Hi, C. This is a shot in the dark, but I hope it works. It seems in the last year I've fallen out of touch with your daughter. I was hoping to rectify that situation. Can you drop me a line at Thanks.

ps-Good luck ridding yourselves of the mystery weed.