If noxious and nuisance weeds were a cash crop, Churchill County would be rolling in money like Colorado and Washington state with their kind of weed.
Instead, many types of invasive weeds have overtaken the county because of the drought and sporadic thundershowers during the past month.
“It’s a bad year all around,” said Nancy Upham, district manager of the Churchill County Mosquito, Vector and Weed (Noxious) Control Board.
“The heat and brief periods of precipitation are causing these invasive weeds to outcompete the others with rapid germination.”
Upham said her district employees are seeing more of these weeds than in previous growing seasons.
She said the weed problem has kept her district busy as well as local landowners who must keep their land relatively free of the weeds. Upham said the State of Nevada classifies weeds according to their impact and abundance on the land.
Upham said people may be seeing a more established pattern of nuisance weeds in the county this year. She described two dominant weeds that fit this category: Russian thistle comes from the tumbleweed family, and the kochia, a taller weed that grows up to 6 feet.
According to numerous websites, Russian thistle is a large and bushy noxious annual broadleaf plant that occurs throughout the western states, more often in drier areas. Kochia is an erect summer annual broadleaf plant that is difficult to differentiate from fivehook bassia, Bassia hyssopifolia. Kochia inhabits agricultural land and other disturbed areas. Although it can provide good livestock forage in modest amounts, its leaves contain saponins and small amounts of oxalates and nitrates, which can be toxic to livestock.
In the fall, Upham said the taproots dry out, and both species become tumbleweeds.
“They develop a significant amount of seeds,” she said. “They’ll blow around and drop their seeds.”
Upham, though, said the two weeds provide some good forage and cover for animals, but she said property owners will consider more of a hazard.
Meanwhile in the city of Fallon, Fire Marshall Mitch Young said he has also seen an increase in the number of problem weeds.
“I did a weed survey at the end of June,” said Young, describing the number of properties that needed attention. “The city mailed out letters after that.”
He said the city easily tripled the number of letters sent out this summer than last year.
Young echoed Upham’s assessment and cause of this year’s weed problem.
“In town we’ve had problems with kochia and puncturevine, both prohibited by city ordinance,” Young added.
Young said if residents have weeds on their property, they should either pull or mow them as early as they can. For example Young said cutting down weeds when they are 8-10 inches tall is much easier before they grow to 8-10 feet. Young said last year’s weed problem within the city limits was not as big as this year’s.
Upham said the county has had significant problems with noxious weeds to include salt cedar, puncturevine, perennial pepperweed and hoary cress. The pepperweed is tall with a white top, while the hoary cress is shorter but with a white top.
The most prominent of these four weeds is the puncture vine, said Upham. Puncturevine thrives in hot and dry conditions where other plants cannot. Upham said the puncturevine can be a major problem in pastures, turf and along roadsides and ditch banks. Its main weedy characteristic is its spiky seedpods.
Salt cedar species are spreading shrubs or small trees ranging from 5-20 feet tall with numerous slender branches and small, alternate, scale-like leaves.
Upham said in several months, residents will see a domino effect as the weeds dry out and become both fire and seed hazards.
So far this summer, crews have seen invasive weeds on roads, in pastures and ditch banks and in disturbed areas where there has been bulldozing.
The Mosquito, Vector and Weed (Noxious) Control Board receives the majority of its funding for eradicating noxious weeds. Upham said district employees can identify the types of weeds if requested; furthermore, Upham said she is concerned with noxious weeds mixed in with alfalfa hay.
“Certain producers have weed free hay, and the Nevada Department of Agriculture certifies that,” Upham said.