The green monster

They hide in the grass building energy. Then, about this time of year, they rear their dangerous heads and reveal the hidden menace. I’m describing the beautiful but invasive Scotch thistle, which is rapidly becoming a major noxious weed problem in Vernon and surrounds.

Escaped from gardens where they were brought from their native range in Europe and Western Asia, this is a non-native plant we don’t want growing in our neighbourhoods and grasslands. Scotch thistle has silvery-grey foliage and can grow to 3 meters in height and half that in width. It’s armoured all over with very long and sharp spines. It crowds out native plants and grows in large patches that deter wildlife and humans alike from walking close. One plant can produce hundreds of seeds that are viable for two decades or more. Once they have a foothold, they are very difficult to eradicate.

Many locals are aware of the green monster and are taking steps to remove Scotch thistles when they find them on their property and in public places, or to report them to local authorities. They can be killed by severing the stem below the ground using a shovel, but wear gloves and heavy clothing to protect yourself from the spines and be very careful. The best time to remove them is when they grow as spiny lettuce-like clusters in the spring. Once they bolt to tall stalks that produce large purple flowers at the tips, they become too formidable for many to tackle.

We’re losing the battle and more needs to be done. Learn how to identify Scotch thistle. Control them yourself if you can. Volunteer with groups who organize work parties. Report locations to local governments. Please, let’s all work to make our communities a “no Scotch thistle” zone.

Rick Bonar, Vernon

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