A question that many who are not in agriculture might ask is “Why should I care about weeds?” The weeds featured in this column are called invasive for a reason. They take over a region, push out native grasses and steal water resources. Many livestock and wildlife will not eat them and will either starve or seek their food source elsewhere. When the weeds dry out, they become a fire hazard. It’s a topic any hunter, outdoor recreationist, or anyone benefiting from agriculture should hold dear.
Of all the invasive weeds in Harney County, Medusahead rye is one of the ugliest and most destructive. It was thought to have come into the U.S. attached to the hair of imported livestock or bedding. The plant develops in early spring, giving it a jump start to other later developing grasses. It grows 6 to 24 inches tall. The mature plant is stiff with barbs that often cause injury to the mouth and eyes of grazing animals. The high silica content delays decomposition, which further impacts native grass growth.
The latest treatments involve intensive early grazing, a slow hot fire after the seeds drop, herbicides, disking and revegetation, but you can make a difference. The Harney County Weed Management program urges you to Play and Clean. The plant seed adheres to humans, animals, and vehicles. Enjoy the outdoors but prevent spread of this destructive weed by cleaning your ATVs, brushing your boots and coats, and check your dogs after being outside.