June 06, 2006

Houndstongue and the 'noxious' dilemma

A few days ago, I was picking my way through the overgrown gully down in front of the house to inspect one of our feral apple trees.

There in front of me was a tall blooming wildflower, doubly noticeable because so few are blooming this year. It looked at first like one of the many penstemons, but the blossoms were not long enough.

I identified it in Plants of Pueblo Mountain Park, the best wildflower guidebook for these foothills: it was houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale), an "alien from Eurasia."

It's funny how words like "alien" get tangled in human discourse. Some people can begin with plants and end up debating immigration. Well, forget that. The question was whether or not to pull it up.

I am not such a native-plant purist to take on dandelions, salsify, bindweed, alfalfa, and other introduced species that grow all around here. (Maybe bindweed if I could)

What makes a "noxious" weed truly noxious in the West is if it is detrimental to (a) livestock or (b) deer and elk. And houndstongue qualfies. Montana puts it right up there with the other bad actors: spotted knapweed, leafy spurge, and the like.

Ironically, Colorado State University lists it as a "plant rarely browsed by deer," as if they are encouraging its planting. Sounds like the horticulturalists are not talking to the wildlife-management and livestock people up in Fort Collins!

I pulled it (and there is a ferocious taproot), only to be confronted by M., who liked the red flowers. So the flowering top sits in a cut-glass cruet on the dining table.

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