Vail Daily Weed of the Week; Invasive plants harm humans, animals |

Vail Daily Weed of the Week; Invasive plants harm humans, animals

Gregg Barrie
Weed of the Week
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail Daily/Gregg BarriePlumeless thistle, shown here near Dowd Junction, is one of nearly 35 invasive plants species that can be found in Colorado's Vail Valley.

VAIL, Colorado –Welcome to the 2010 “Weed of the Week” series. No, this article has nothing to do with your local dispensary. It does, however, highlight an important topic affecting Colorado: the spread of invasive plant species across the state.

These plants come from far away places like Asia, Europe or the Middle East and have been introduced, in some cases, by accident, and, in many cases, intentionally, as garden plants, erosion measures and wind screens.

Termed “noxious weeds,” invasive plants often establish in disturbed areas and roadsides but spread quickly into our native ecosystems, threatening the things that brought most of us here, including recreational opportunities like fishing and hunting, fields of wildflowers in the summer and the occasional sight of wildlife grazing the hillside.

While many people recognize the thistles as a not-so-good plant, the fact is that Eagle County hosts around 35 different noxious weed species. With names like yellow toadflax, hoary cress and poison hemlock, these plants are having a profound impact on both natural and developed areas. Short of listing the most impacted areas, suffice to say that every town and metropolitan district in Eagle County has several problem plants.

In an effort to help Eagle County residents learn about these plants and how to control them, the Vail Daily, in conjunction with the town of Vail and Colorado State Extension, will feature a weed of the week every Monday through the summer. The articles will offer tips on identifying and controlling the most populous weeds found in Eagle County as well as suggestions for native replacements to many of the escaped ornamentals.

Noxious weeds must be controlled for several reasons. First of all, it’s the law. The Colorado Noxious Weed Act requires all property owners, both public and private, to manage noxious weeds on their property. Noxious weeds are defined by the Colorado Noxious Weed List. Furthermore, Eagle County and most municipalities in the county each have some form of noxious weed management ordinance.

Control of these plants is essential because of the damage they can cause. Noxious weeds tend to form monocultures, meaning that once they establish, they drive out most other plant species, eliminating the biodiversity of a healthy ecosystem. They have few predators and little competition, allowing them to spread at an alarming rate.

Additionally, noxious weeds have little or no forage value for wildlife. Therefore, when the native plants are gone, so are the animals that feed on them, including game animals.

From a recreational standpoint, noxious weeds can choke out hiking and biking trails. They also invade stream banks and wetlands, reducing aquatic habitat and limiting access for river users, both human and animal.

The monocultures created by noxious weeds leave open soil between plants increasing erosion and sediment loading of streams and rivers. As for agriculture, noxious weeds can overtake cropland and grazing areas, rendering it useless. In fact, many of these plants are poisonous to livestock and native animals alike.

Finally, the loss of habitat and agricultural land and reduced real estate values can have real economic impacts as well, not to mention the expense of control for both public and private entities. Those are just a few of the reasons for managing invasive plants.

Weed management agencies recognize that the best tool against the spread of invasive species is through the spread of information. After all, your weed control is only as good as your neighbor’s. For more on how you can help in the fight against noxious weeds, contact your municipal or county weed manager, check out the information available on the web and tune in each Monday for the Vail Daily Weed of the Week.

Gregg Barrie is a landscape architect with the town of Vail’s department of public works. E-mail questions or comments about this column to

Support Local Journalism