Saturday, June 16, 2001

Weed is nettlesome in Ky.

This'll bother some: They're hard to get rid of

By Sara Shipley
The Courier-Journal

        FRANKLIN, Ky. — Farmer Johnny Robbins has tried everything to fight off the armies of thistles invading his pastures in Simpson County.

        He sprays them. He mows them. But still, every summer, the purple-red blooms of the spiky weed return, towering up to six feet above the ground, crowding out crops and making livestock turn up their noses. Flowering weeds on his neighbors' property each produce more than a thousand seeds, their fluffy jackets carrying them on the wind, like tiny paratroopers, onto his land.

        Thistles have plagued land across Central Kentucky for 60 years. But three years of drought, combined with lax landowners who let thistles spread, have created a weed explosion in some parts of the state.

        Kentucky's Agriculture Department has sprayed $40,000 worth of chemicals in farmers' fields this year to kill the weed, and the Highway Department has sprayed and mowed thistles along roads.

        Simpson County officials, prodded by frustrated farmers like Mr. Robbins, are taking more drastic action. They have invoked a little-used and controversial state law creating a “thistle eradication area.”

        Landowners can be fined up to $200 a day if they don't remove the weeds after a 15-day notice.

        It's the latest effort in the war against “invasive species.” In Kentucky, widespread pests include kudzu, crown vetch, Johnson grass, multiflora rose and purple loosestrife. “There's just no end. Every time I think I've gotten a handle on what's a problem in the state, some biologist comes up with some new plant,” said Joyce Bender, stewardship coordinator for the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission.

        Thistles are native to western Europe and arrived in the United States in the early 1900s. Their eye-popping flowers color fields in May and June. Cattle shun the prickly plants, which commandeer any bare ground and crowd out grass and hay.

        “They're very difficult to control,” said Sam Moore, Kentucky Farm Bureau president. “You think you've got them beat back, and then you get another flush of them.”


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