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There is satisfaction in getting to know an enemy: its habits, its ethology—sometimes, it seemed, its psychology. By now I was sure the plants had learned to hide from me, hunkering down beside a rock and bursting into seed before I caught them. Tumbleweeds around me sing their lonely song.

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Nights underneath the prairie moon, I ride along and sing this tune. See them tumbling down Pledging their love to the ground Pledging their love to the ground!

Weeds Find a Way

Pillage and plunder is more like it. The next spring, after all of that work, the Salsola was as fierce as ever. And of course I was hardly the only one fighting this unwinnable war. How had this come to pass? It was in October that the Department of Agriculture in Washington first received word of a strange plant that had begun appearing in the newly tilled farmlands of South Dakota.

Included with the report was a sample that had been found near the town of Yankton on the Missouri River. The information was filed away and forgotten until, a little more than a decade later, more specimens began arriving in the mail. One came from Aberdeen, miles northwest of the earlier sighting, and another from all the way up in North Dakota. The march was already becoming relentless. In the early s a legislator proposed that a fence be built around the state to stem the incursion.

It was too late. By this time the weed had already found its way to Canada. While tracking down its history, James A. Young, a USDA scientist, gathered letters documenting the invasion. Lyster Hoxie Dewey, assistant botanist, was sent from Washington to investigate. He interviewed anyone he could find who could provide information on the invasion. He dispatched questionnaires to the county governments in seven states asking when the plant had first been noticed and how far it had spread.

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Iowa, Nebraska, parts of Wisconsin—all were being overtaken. The infestation, Dewey was quick to assure his superiors, was not part of a conspiracy. Sometime in or —that is how precise Dewey was—contaminated flaxseed from Russia had been sown, quite accidentally, on a farm near the town of Scotland, South Dakota. Taking root along roads, irrigation ditches, and railroad tracks, or stowing away inside shipments of grain, Salsola quickly spread across the West. By it had reached California. Within a few years Salsola had been sighted in more than a dozen states.

Rollicking across its new homeland, Salsola was a frighteningly efficient seed-sowing machine.

It hardly bothers with leaves, putting its energy instead into producing small, spiny scales called bracts. Tucked in the cleft between bract and stem are small, barely visible flowers that give forth seeds. Inside each, coiled like a snake, is the Salsola embryo, ready to unfurl into a seedling as soon as daytime temperatures rise just above freezing. Given only a few drops of moisture, the weed begins to grow, pushing down a root that can extend six feet deep, with tentacles reaching out even farther.

Late in the autumn, when the mature plant is pregnant with seeds, a layer of cells at the base weakens like the stem of an apple to allow easy detachment. Then comes the inevitable wind.

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The plant breaks and rolls and reseeds. Rich soil, poor soil, wet or dry, clay or sandy, alkaline or acidic—wherever it finds an opportunity.

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As long as the ground has been loosened by a plow, a shovel, or the hooves of a cow, Salsola will grow. In it was collected for the first time in Hawaii. The weed has also continued to thrive in its native land, spreading throughout the dry parts of Europe and Asia. Canada, Australia, Argentina, South Africa—all have been conquered too. During the early s, after aboveground nuclear testing finally ceased at the Nevada Test Site, the first thing said to grow back was Russian thistle.

Radioactive Salsola has come tumbling out of the old Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington, where plutonium was manufactured during the Cold War. I half expect to hear someday that Russian thistle has been found on the moon. Late this spring, wanting to see where the whole mess started, I flew to Sioux Falls, rented a car, and headed south to Bon Homme County, where those hapless South Dakota farmers had let the genie escape. As I drove along the farm roads, I thought of that Outer Limits episode.

A half-mad old codger finally rescues the couple from their weedy attackers, and they take refuge in his farmhouse.

Common plants and weeds that you didn't know you could eat

A sign on the outskirts identified the village of Scotland, population A purple water tower rose over Main Street, which led to a park where children were playing. Researchers with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have shown that farmers can place fumigants in specific zones, rather than using a single treatment for every situation. For example, fumigants applied to a specific area where weed seeds germinate can reduce the number of weeds that grow. Researchers say this will help growers as they try to manage pests in areas where they cause the most trouble.

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  • As a rule, growers manage pests by injecting fumigants into soil at the bottom of a raised bed to kill pests and pathogens in the bed of the soil. It's important to knock out the weeds because they can impede the growth of tomatoes, bell peppers and strawberries, among other crops. If you want a healthy, nice-looking lawn, then you need to focus on the problem areas. What we have developed is a similar concept. If you control the weeds with the fumigants, there is no need to apply herbicides.

    The key is better use of pesticides, which can result in an overall reduction in pesticide use. Original written by Brad Buck. Note: Content may be edited for style and length. Science News. Boyd likened the weed-management zone to taking care of your lawn. ScienceDaily, 5 June