Thistles, Knapweeds, and Weevils

Pollinators Attracted to Thistle Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Pollinators Attracted to Thistle
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Musk Thistle Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Musk Thistle
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

A Child's Spotted Knapweed Nature Journal Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer A Child’s Spotted Knapweed Nature Journal
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

My mother’s mother loved the wonder of the natural world, from eye-catching minerals to how lightning drags thunder behind it like a garden cart. Grandma Eda asked that thistle be a prominent flower at her funeral. I’ve always been struck by how she saw past the prickly spikes to find beauty in the flower I know as a weed, certainly a metaphor for how she saw her life.

Butterflies, bees, and beetles love thistle. Hummingbirds, and other birds, especially goldfinches, do as well. There’s even a story of an explorer named Truman Everts who in 1870 survived on elk thistle root for more than a month as he wandered lost in what would become Yellowstone National Park a few years later.

Not everyone, however, sees thistles and their knapweed lookalikes of the Aster family the same affectionate way. Wildlife and livestock find most unpalatable, and they certainly can be a spiny nuisance as one moves past them in the field. There are some native thistles, but the Utah Noxious Weed Act code 4-17 designates Canada thistle, musk thistle, nodding thistle, plumeless thistle, and Scotch thistle, as well as spotted knapweed and other knapweeds as either species to be controlled or contained to halt their spread. These invasive non-native weeds prolifically reproduce and aggressively crowd out native plants.

Fortunately, there is hope in the noxious weed battle beyond herbicides and handpicking. A creative partnership of Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources, Weed Supervisors Association, and Cache County Weed Department have been working with Edith Bowen Laboratory School students at Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area for several years. They use weevils to eradicate the noxious weeds from the tons of hay grown in the meadow and surrounding areas that is then used to feed the elk each winter. This program called Kids in Action: Going Wild With Science engages children and adult scientists and other professionals as they gather data and do service learning with native and non-native plants and insects for the benefit of the elk and the greater community.

As a partnering educator, I have assisted fourth grade students as they sample sites in the meadow and along nearby Curtis Creek with these partnering adults, gathering data on the prevalence and health of Canada thistle as a way to determine the effectiveness of a biocontrol species, the Hadroplontus litura, that have been released in the area previous years. This stem-boring weevil literally bores into the stem of the Canada thistle plants and eats the inner tissue, killing the plants and leaving behind insect larva excrement called frass. They have done similar projects targeting spotted knapweed, and it is the best kind of citizen science where students are able to see results as they learn, even if Grandma would scold me for meddling with her beloved wild purple Mother’s Day bouquets.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Shannon Rhodes.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Additional Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Anderson, Mike. Cache Valley Students Get Work as Biologists for a Day at Hardware Ranch. Sept. 1, 2016. KSL News. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkZaHNTMxOU

Bengston, Anna. Trouble with Tumbleweeds. May 9, 2014. https://wildaboututah.org/trouble-with-tumbleweeds/

Dzurisin, Dan. What’s in a Name? The Misadventures of Truman Everts. 2019. https://www.usgs.gov/news/whats-name-misadventures-truman-everts

Eckberg, James et al. Native Thistles: A Conservation Practitioner’s Guide. 2017. https://xerces.org/sites/default/files/2018-05/16-029_01_XercesSoc_Native-Thistles-Conservation-Guide_web.pdf

Green, Jack. Pioneer Day Edible Native Plants. July 13, 2015. https://wildaboututah.org/pioneer-day-edible-native-plants/

Hellstern, Ron. Invasive Species. Sept. 24, 2018. https://wildaboututah.org/invasive-species/

Hoopes, Carla. Kids in Action for Biological Control. January 2021. https://bugwoodcloud.org/bugwoodwiki/archive/20210216140118!KIA_Initiative_Who_We_Are.pdf and https://bugwoodcloud.org/bugwoodwiki/EBLS_2020_Report.pdf

Lowry, Brenda Jarvis et al. Noxious Weed Field Guide for Utah. Utah State University Extension. 2017. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2351&context=extension_curall

Mendenhall, Amber. Hardware Ranch Student Biocontrol Program. 2020. https://utahweedsupervisors.com/hardware-ranch-student-biocontrol-program/

Mendenhall, Morgan. Common Weeds of Utah Forests. https://forestry.usu.edu/files/utah-forest-facts/common-weeds-of-utah-forests.pdf

Utah Department of Agriculture. Utah Noxious Weeds. 2020. https://www.invasive.org/species/list.cfm?id=33 https://www.invasive.org/species/list.cfm?id=33

Winston, Rachel et al. Biology and Biological Control of Exotic True Thistles. U.S. Forest Service Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team. https://www.fs.fed.us/foresthealth/technology/pdfs/ExoticTrueThistles.pdf

Dandelion Power

Dandelions Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly
Dandelions
Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly
Morning for the spring dandelion is gentle and calm
The world is no longer a struggle but instead a serendipitous balm
Your yellow buds open upon you, sneaking between others some pink, some white
More colors even still in the waxing new day’s light
 
There is no better time for the dandelion than when spring has sprung
The leaves are fresh green and so is the fresh dung
Birds do sing high up in the stretching yawning trees
Staking their turf, edges, and new nesting eaves
 
Spring when sprung well sizzles with waking signs
Of kin abloom drawn with straight growing lines
One end towards sun, the other down towards the deep
Until some roots build taps, and others go on the creep
 
The days are now joyous choruses of neighbor raucous crocuses
Avian acrobats whirling spinning diving like ferocious locusts
Shades of toothed green batten down the laden earth
Soaking and drinking and filling to fullest milky girth
 
And as the sun sets on each new spring day
I am reminded of the new presence by the heat that stays
Radiating, glowing, even after the moon has shown
Continuing the journey of growth and what has grown
 
It is amazing to think that each year the world mends
Its browns in all hues to life in all bends
From sails to seeds to germ and blossom
Dandelion life is both humble and awesome
 
So this spring when sprung look out your window or door
Remember that life gives always life more and more
If in doubt, don’t wait: be like the dandelion flower
Thriving in cracks and interrupting silly lawns with unrelenting blissful dandelion power
 
I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org/

Brain McCann, Roslynn, Dandelion, Friend or Foe?, Wild About Utah, Apr 4, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/dandelion-friend-foe/

Greene, Jack, Pioneer Day Edible Native Plants 2016, Wild About Utah, Jul 18, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/pioneer-day-edible-native-plants-2016/

Mendon’s May Day

Mendon’s May Day: Mendon May Pole Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Mendon May Pole
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mendon Glacier Lilly Courtesy & © Mary Heers, PhotographerMendon Glacier Lilly
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mendon Glacier Lilly Close Up Courtesy & © Mary Heers, PhotographerMendon Glacier Lilly Close Up
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mary's Neighbor's May Queen Crown Courtesy & &copy' Mary Heers, PhotographerMary’s Neighbor’s May Queen Crown
Courtesy & &copy’ Mary Heers, Photographer

Never have I seen the coming of spring celebrated with more flair than Mendon’s May Day.

On the first Saturday in May, Maypoles with 20 foot long ribbons appear in the Mendon town square. By ten o’clock a couple hundred residents have gathered around the poles. A piano in the gazebo strikes the first chords and the May Queen and her entourage step around the corner of the church and onto the green. Suddenly everybody gathered in the square begins to sing. “Come to the woodlands, away, away”. Most people know the whole song by heart.

The queen is crowned and the real showstopper, the braiding of the Maypoles, begins. Mendon’s young girls, grades 1-5, pick up the ribbons. Braiding the poles is complicated. The girls have been practicing after school three times a week since the beginning of April. Last week I dropped in on one of the practices and counted: 3 Maypoles, 64 girls, and a little bit of chaos. There’s a march, a minuet. More songs. Stepping in, stepping out, kneeling, skipping. The girls bob up and down as they sing ”Apples blossoms swing and sway..”

Mendon is one of Cache Valley’s oldest pioneer towns, tucked up against the Wellsville Mountains. Winters were long and hard, and the coming of spring eagerly awaited. The beginnings of May Day can be traced back to the days when the young girls in the pioneer settlement raced up the hillsides to gather spring wildflowers to put in their hair.

The first May Queen, Seny Sorenson, was crowned with a hand woven wreath of flowers in 1863. Since then, every year, rain or shine, a queen has been crowned in the town square, and the maypoles have been braided with the same songs and dance steps. 160 years, with only a few changes.

The queen’s name is now drawn out of a hat from a pool of the town’s high school juniors. And this year, for the first time ever, the young girls will be getting store bought dresses. In the past, the mothers were expected to sew the matching dresses for their daughters. Not knowing about this tradition, you can imagine how bewildered I was when I had just moved to Mendon and answered a knock on my door. A woman I didn’t know handed me a dress pattern and proceed to say something about altering the interfacing. I was pretty sure she was speaking English, but I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. Luckily my good friend and neighbor quickly brought me up to speed. This wonderful neighbor had actually been Mendon’s May Queen over 50 years ago. “Do you want to see my crown?” she asked as she opened the door to her hall closet. And there it was, a tight ring of pink and white flowers, secured to a tiny satin pillow with a fading ribbon.

I had one more stop to make. I hopped in my car and drove up to the Deep Canyon trailhead high above Mendon. A short way up the trail I found it– a whole hillside covered with curly yellow Glacier Lilies, the “early blooming flowers” from the May Day song “Maying and Straying…” And believe me, this was a sight worth singing about.

This is Mary Heers, and I’m Wild about Springtime in Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers AND Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Postings

Mendon May Day, https://www.mendonutah.net/may_day.htm

May Day Celebration, Mendon City, Utah, https://mendoncity.org/may-day-celebration/

Wolves and wolverines in Utah? Oh my!

Wolves and wolverines in Utah? Oh my! Endangered Yellowstone Grey Wolf with Radio Collar Courtesy US FWS, William Campbell, Photographer
Endangered Yellowstone Grey Wolf with Radio Collar
Courtesy US FWS, William Campbell, Photographer
Wolves and wolverines in Utah? Oh my! As I prepare for a 3 day trip with students to Yellowstone, a stronghold for what once was, these iconic critters come to mind. The last wolves were cleared from Cache Valley in 1869. A predator drive through our valley was mustered, where every able-bodied citizen was called to arms to rid us of these villains. A wolverine met its demise on the hill where the Logan Temple now stands.

Thank goodness, we have awakened to the value of predators in maintaining healthy ecosystems, and for their aesthetic and spiritual value. After all, they coexisted along with their prey for millions of years before our species came along and began tinkering.

There are well-documented visits by these two species in Utah, including actual tactile experience. However, established breeding populations are yet to be found. Both require vast, relatively undisturbed wildlands to thrive.

Since wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone in 1995, the Utah DWR has been able to confirm 20 wolves in our state. Nearly all confirmed sightings have been consistent with lone, dispersing wolves.

Due to a recent court ruling, wolves in much of Utah are once again listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act except a small portion of northern Utah where wolves are not welcome. There is a statewide wolf management plan and personnel to manage them. Any wolves that move out of the small, delisted area are considered endangered and are subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction.

A wolverine was recently spotted in Rich County, now wandering the Uinta Mountains with a GPS collar around its neck. This is the first wolverine ever captured in Utah history. The wolverine is a male, between 3-4 years old, and biologists say he is in excellent physical condition. They are excited to learn more about this elusive animal with only eight confirmed sightings in Utah since 1979. We are on the southern edge of the wolverine’s typical habitat. This GPS tracking will allow us to understand and manage wolverines in Utah.

Now on to Yellowstone where both species are well established. Around a hundred wolves in 8 packs, and about 7 wide ranging wolverines may be found in the park. Climate-change models predict that by 2050, the spring snowpack needed for wolverine denning and hunting will make the greater Yellowstone ecosystem a critical part of its southern range. Wolverines are so rarely seen and inhabit such remote terrain at low densities that assessing population trends is difficult and sudden declines could go unnoticed for years.

I doubt we will see a wolverine on our visit, but wolf sightings are a good bet as we will be led by a park wolf technician, that is if we don’t succumb to hypothermia before a howl is heard!

Jack Greene for BAS. With confirmed sightings of wolves and wolverine in our state, I’m even wilder about Utah!

Credits:
Pictures: Courtesy US National Parks Service, William Campbell, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin, https://upr.org/
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Wolves in Utah, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, Last Updated: Thursday, March 3, 2022, https://wildlife.utah.gov/wolves.html#:~:text=Are%20there%20wolves%20in%20Utah,20%20wolves%20in%20the%20state.

Gray wolves again listed as endangered in most of Utah, A recent court ruling limits wolf-management options, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, March 1, 2022, https://wildlife.utah.gov/wolf/wolves.pdf

Podmore, Zak, (Report for America), A gray wolf is in Utah for the first time in years. The state is setting traps, The Salt Lake Tribune, June 3, 2020, https://www.sltrib.com/news/2020/06/03/gray-wolf-is-utah-first/

Wolverine captured, collared and released in Utah, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, March 14, 2022, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/utah-wildlife-news/1380-wolverine-captured-collared-and-released-in-utah.html

Miller, Jordan, Wolverine spotted in Utah this month marks third publicized sighting this year, The Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 20, 2021, https://www.sltrib.com/news/2021/10/20/wolverine-spotted-utah/