Woster: Even in beauty, unpleasantness can exist

Sometimes my mom asked me to pull back the Creeping Jenny in the farm yard. If it had been up to me, I’d have let it take over and add a splash of green to the place.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster
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When I studied South Dakota’s noxious weeds in Leonard DeBoer’s vocational-agriculture class, I’d never seen a Canada thistle.

Now, I think I have a mess of them in my front yard.

Noxious, an online dictionary says, means “harmful, deadly or very unpleasant.’’ The thistle in the lawn don’t seem deadly. They are unpleasant. They take any patch of grass they can reach, and they have sharp stickers.

Left untended, as these weeds have been in places along the river bank near my house, they spread like a stand of aspen in the Colorado Rockies. They aren’t as attractive as aspen. They’re totally uncivilized, lacking even the basic manners of polite society.

Every so often – and since I’m not looking to win any Lawn of the Week awards, it’s not very often – I go out and dig a few out by the roots. My mom taught me that was the only way to really eliminate a weed. She used that method on dandelions, taking a long stick with a sharp, forked metal tip and rooting out those weeds before the yellow flowers turned to white balls of seed. Like me, she didn’t do it as often as it takes to stay ahead of the game, but she taught me that’s how you attack tough weeds.


Back in Mr. DeBoer’s class, we studied a couple of types of weeds that grow in South Dakota. The first list had 10 primary noxious weeds, and I think Canada thistle might have been somewhere on the list even back in 1960. It was down the row from leafy spurge, which I didn’t recognize but which my friend Lee said was a problem back on his family’s ranch.

I remember being surprised when I saw a picture of the No. 1 noxious weed. It was a thing called field bindweed. I had never in my young life heard of such a weed. When Mr. DeBoer showed us pictures, though, I said, “Hey, that’s Creeping Jenny.’’ It was indeed, he said. It was pretty miserable stuff, he said. It spread like a prairie fire in a stubble field, and it choked out the good vegetation wherever it went.

Thistles still fill the Gross Lake Game Production Area even after it was sprayed on June 24. (Mercedes Lemke / Republic)
Thistles still fill the Gross Lake Game Production Area even after it was sprayed in 2017.
Mitchell Republic file photo

Creeping Jenny was something I’d seen all my life. It was our farm’s best crop, year in and year out. Drought, downpours, hail, nothing seemed to faze it. Some years it was the brightest thing in the lawn at the farm. In a land where water was scarce, we didn’t use sprinklers to keep our grass growing. It depended on annual rainfall, so most of the summer the lawn was brown, dry and crunchy – except for a little volunteer stand of asparagus in a shady corner by the fence, and the strings of white-blossomed Creeping Jenny that threaded through the brittle shoots of grass.

Until I learned that field bindweed was noxious, I kind of liked the way it looked and how clingy it was around fence lines and abandoned machinery. One of my granddaughters liked it, too. She was just a young girl when we visited the old farm one afternoon. She plucked a pristine white blossom from a stand of Creeping Jenny and tucked it into a bolt hole in a rusting baler near the granary. I don’t know if she remembers that, but I’ll never forget it.

Until I studied that noxious-weeds list, I thought the worst weed on the farm was cocklebur. I used to have to pull those burs out of our dog’s fur. It was a chore. So was taking a hoe and chopping out the cocklebur around and between the rows of corn where the cultivator couldn’t reach. Cocklebur may not have been harmful or deadly, but it was tremendously unpleasant for a kid with a handful of blisters.

Sometimes my mom asked me to pull back the Creeping Jenny in the farm yard. If it had been up to me, I’d have let it take over and add a splash of green to the place.

And if it weren’t for the stickers, I might let this thistle take over my lawn. It seems to thrive with little or no care.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
Opinion by Terry Woster
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