Invasive plant sprouting throughout the South Okanagan and Similkameen could take over cropland and grassland

'Skeletonweed' invading

Casey Richardson

An invasive plant species has already taken over parts of the North Okanagan, and now the Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society (OASISS) is trying to get it out of the Penticton area before it consumes crops and grasslands.

Known as Skeletonweed, the invasive plant already covers an area in the Pacific Northwest between three to four million hectares, decimating range land resources as well as crop areas.

“It's also known as naked weed or devils grass, and this is because of the nature of how it grows. It really does look very skeletal, there's no obvious leaves to it, it can get really tall, up to about four feet. But the greatest concern is the root which can go up to two and a half meters deep,” Lisa Scott, executive director for OASISS explained.

The plant has leaves at the base that resemble dandelions and are hairless with deep, irregular teeth that point back toward the leaf base.

The leaves higher up on the plant are small, giving the plant a ‘skeleton-like’ appearance and small yellow flowers occur at the ends of stems when in bloom.

“Then the flowers turn into seeds which have little fluffy parachutes to them. And that allows it to spread very effectively in the wind.”

A single plant may produce as many as 15,000-20,000 seeds.

Take care If you’re handling this plant, since it holds a milky white substance on the inside that can irritate skin.

“Where we found it in Penticton is right near some residential areas and businesses. So it would be great to have more eyes out there on the ground, letting us know if you've spotted this plant,” Scott added.

“We really want to keep it out of our pastures and hayfields, where there would be an economic impact. We also want to keep it out of our natural areas, which would have an impact on our wildlife, and the natural beauty of our grasslands and open forested areas.”

Rush Skeletonweed has only popped up in a few locations throughout the South Okanagan-Similkameen so far.

“We have a really great opportunity here in the South Okanagan, and Similkameen valleys to actually hopefully eradicate fresh skeleton weed. We don't normally talk about eradication, but with a species that has such a limited distribution, that opportunity is presented to us here.”

OASISS will be taking care of the reported sightings on Tuesday.

“But we also want to get reports from the public so that they can be part of the solution and help us keep Skeletonweed out of our beautiful area.”

If you spot Skeletonweed on your property or on your favourite trail visit OASSIS’s website to report the invasive plant.

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