Thistle Wars: A New Dope (Me)

It’s August, and the war is raging.

No, I’m not talking about the one in the Middle East. Or Syria. Or Ukraine. Or…*sigh*…Can we move on, please?

I’m talking about the War on Thistles. I think of this as my own private war, Woman vs. Nasty Prickly Invasive Plant. When I’m out removing thistles from the National Monument land adjacent to my house, however, I invariably meet dozens of folks who stop to share their own thistle-war stories. So I know I’m not alone.

First of all, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about native thistles, the kind that decorate your hiking trail up in the mountains:

pretty2

I’m talking about Cirsium Vulgare, better known as Bull Thistle. Don’t let me hear you calling THIS beast “pretty.”
pretty
It’s invasive. Deer, sheep and cows won’t eat it. It’s prickly as a porcupine. And it produces about a billion seeds per plant every August.

To remove it, you have to remove the WHOLE PLANT. Just cut off the flowers at the top? Hah–the plant will just sprout out more from the sides. So why not just cut the plant down and leave it to rot?

This is why:oldones
The damn thing just dries out and pops its seeds right on schedule, posthumously. Once those fluffy little bastards are loose, the plant has won.

Some people cut their thistles, cover them tightly with a tarp, and let them degrade for a year or two. But I can’t exactly do that on public land. So here’s my routine. I cut ’em with long-handled shears, make a small pile (picking them up with the shears), then use my boots to fold the stems and mash the pile into a kind of mat, like so:die
Then I use a towel to take hold of that thistle-mat (leather gloves alone aren’t enough), wrestle it into a garbage bag, and stamp on the bag. The stamping helps to compact ’em further, but it’s also a kind of war dance. bag
Did I mention this whole stupid endeavor is also a great workout?

Yes, I often tell folks who wander by and ask annoying earnest questions, yes it WOULD be better to uproot the whole plant instead of cutting it. But that would probably kill me instead of just exhausting me.

On a good day, I can cut, mash, and stuff for two hours. Then I have to drag the heavy yard-cart full of kill thistles back to my house and load it into our truck to take to the dump. So, yeah. Workout city.

But before I leave a site, I stop to enjoy the Before and After view:thistles1
thistles2
I’d like to think the dream of ridding my beautiful big “backyard” of bull thistles is not an impossible dream. Gotta admit, when I’m out there cutting, it’s hard not to feel more like Sisyphus than Hercules. Especially when a handful of thistledown floats past my nose, looking about as fluffy and innocuous as a baby duck with a machine gun. But I just sigh and remind myself that, hey, this year there were fewer to cut than last year!

At least I think there were.mine
Anyone else out there have your own personal battle with invasive anythings? Plants? Animals? Neighbors? Tell me all about it. I’d love the excuse to sit down for a while.

2 thoughts on “Thistle Wars: A New Dope (Me)

  1. I’ve been stretched a little thin lately and have missed a lot of posts on a lot of people’s blogs. And until summer schedules return to routine, that trend is bound to continue. But this one made me smile. Go Thistle-buster!!

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