JoAnne Skelly

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September 1, 2012
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JoAnne Skelly: Thorny yellow weed can harm horses

Yellow starthistle is a noxious weed with 1-inch spines radiating out from the base of the flower. Infested land can become impassable due to these spines, reducing recreation. This weed depletes soil moisture and eliminates desirable plants. It crowds out native plants, destroying valuable wildlife habitat and food sources. And if these aren’t reasons enough to control it, long-term ingestion of yellow starthistle can poison horses with chewing disease. The first signs of poisoning are twitching of the lips, tongue flicking and involuntary chewing. Permanent brain damage can result, and horses may die of starvation. Yellow starthistle is an annual. It develops, flowers and seeds all in one season. Each plant can produce nearly 75,000 seeds, resulting in 50 million-200 million seeds per acre for heavily infested areas. Most seeds germinate the following year, but some remain in the soil for as long as 10 years before germinating.The plant is gray-green with a long taproot. It has bright dandelion-yellow flowers with sharp spines coming off the flowers. It may grow from 6 to 72 inches tall, depending on the site conditions and water availability. Control of yellow starthistle starts with knowing what the plant looks like and getting rid of it before it goes to seed. Early detection, prevention and control are critical. Awareness of where the weeds are and communicating with neighbors about infested areas, alerting each other to new infestations and working together to control the weeds will help reduce the spread of this competitive invader. Because it is an annual, pulling the weeds out prior to seeding goes a long way toward reducing small infestations. While there are herbicides that are effective, when used repeatedly they may cause an increase in other weeds and yellow starthistle resistance to the herbicide. Herbicides with the active ingredient 2,4-D (a long chemical name for which this is the abbreviation) work well as spot treatments for occasional weeds, but will not stop germination of seeds. Drought stress limits the effectiveness of most herbicides. Only use herbicides in combination with other control methods and a revegetation program. Save our open spaces and protect horses by controlling and reporting yellow starthistle infestations. If you think there is yellow starthistle on your property, know of its existence or want to have a weed properly identified, please contact Carson City Weed Coalition Coordinator Margie Evans here at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office at 775-887-2252, Cooperative Extension is hosting a free class, “Garden in Nevada’s Soils,” Sept. 5, 6-8 p.m. at 2621 Northgate No. 15, Carson City or 1329 Waterloo Lane, Gardnerville. For more information, go to• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/ Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at 775-887-2252 or

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Sep 1, 2012 03:51AM Published Sep 1, 2012 03:50AM Copyright 2012 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.