Canada Thistle

Closeup view of Canada Thistle flowers with green stems.This beauty is the Canada Thistle. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, there was a war being waged in Washington County with these plants. Local inspectors for the County spent many, many hours touring farms throughout the area looking for farmers that were not eradicating these weeds from their acreage.

Farmers felt that they were being ‘snooped on’, but the animosity was only because they felt they were already doing a good job on their own. They believed this weed wasn’t that big of a problem and they could do just fine without needing government interference.

When the inspector showed up at a farm, the farmer would keep the inspector busy not just checking for thistles, but asking many questions about soil conservation, the weather, and local news bordering on gossip. The inspector learned many things on his rounds to the farms. While the inspector and farmer were busy, the family phoned each and every neighbor from miles around alerting them to the possibility of a visit coming their way. They didn’t feel this was cheating in any way, it was just the neighborly thing to do.

The program ended when costs for the program outweighed the effectiveness the inspections.

Looking back at that program, I wish it would have continued. The population of the Canada Thistle is now classified as a Class C Noxious Weed by both Oregon and Washington State. These weeds take up valuable space thereby reducing the forage quality of pastures and rangeland. It is hard to control.

I once read an article stating that a person could get cows to eat the thistles in a series of steps. Starting with small bits of chopped up thistle mixed in with fresh cut grass thereby getting the cows to introduce the weed into their system. Then, working up to more and larger bits of thistle mixed in with hay getting the cattle used to eating the weed on a regular basis. The article stated the entire process may take a month, but that the cows on their own, would eventually eat the thistles as they grow since they would then be used to them as a familiar food source. This was a load of bull. Unless the cows are starving, they avoid this plant like the plague.

We take a tractor with a rotary mower attached to clip the thistle patches just before they blossom. This slows down the process of sending those cottony little seeds floating on the breeze in the late summer. Seems like there are always hidden patches, and in the winter, the high water brings in as many seeds as those summer breezes.

It is a continuing battle to keep those weeds under control. The sheer volume of this thistle encompasses a large spectrum and even those farms who use chemicals to defend their land against this invader, will continue to struggle.

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