Yellow bedstraw, pictured here, is worrying Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow.
On the 'Net
For more information about noxious weeds from local and state sources, visit rcextension.colostate.edu/Nat_Res/weedmgt.html and www.colorado.gov/ag/weeds.
Steamboat Springs Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow is worried that an English wildflower that has mysteriously appeared in Routt County could become Northwest Colorado's next "bad weed."
"We can't afford another whitetop," said Mucklow, referring to what perhaps is Routt County's most recognized and invasive noxious weed. Mucklow said whitetop is out of control and probably never will be under control again. "We're concerned about (yellow bedstraw) because it's a native of England, and it has literally taken over a hay meadow near the headwaters of the Yampa River (south of Yampa). : We don't know how it got here."
Hay is the most common crop raised in Routt County, according to the extension office's 2008 Guide to Rural Living & Small-Scale Agriculture, and Routt County is the state's second most prolific producer of grass hay.
"It's crowding out all the vegetation on the meadow itself," Mucklow said about the new weed on the South Routt hay meadow. "We really want to not allow it to spread. : The worst-case scenario is large, negative impacts on the hay industry."
Mucklow said the county has known about yellow bedstraw for about four years but is particularly concerned this year because the plant has become so aggressive. There are challenges to addressing the infestation, however, as the plant is so unfamiliar to the area. Yellow bedstraw is not one of the nine plants on Routt County's named list of undesirable plants that landowners are required to control under the state's Undesirable Plant Management Act. Yellow bedstraw also is not on noxious weed lists maintained by Colorado State University or the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
"It's such a new plant that there's no research on it. We just don't know anything about it," Mucklow said. "We're just lucky that the landowner recognized a plant out of place. : We're going to treat the whole meadow sometime in 2009 based on the results of herbicide test plots."
Those test plots, however, have shown that treatment is neither cheap nor 100 percent effective. Spray treatment costs about $30 an acre, not including application costs.
"It's on 40 acres, and it could easily spread to 400 acres," Mucklow said. "We want to stop it at 40. : The sprays that are effective on it are not cheap."
Yellow bedstraw is common in other parts of the country, and in some places, it is valued as unique wildflower rather than a dreaded weed. Yellow bedstraw is included in the Connecticut Botanical Society's database of state wildflowers. It is characterized by clustered stems with four rounded corners that usually are fine and fuzzy. Its flower is four-parted and yellow, and it blooms between June and September. It has linear, sharply pointed whorls of 8 to 12.
"If you see this, please let us know," Mucklow said. The extension office can be reached at 879-0825.
Although she did not have any information about yellow bedstraw, Crystal Andrews, of the Colorado Department of Agriculture's Noxious Weed Management Program, said the state is very concerned about another species: meadow knapweed.
Routt County is one of only a few places in Colorado where meadow knapweed exists, and Andrews said the state hopes to eliminate it before it becomes more widespread. Meadow knapweed is a "List A" species as designated by the state, which means eradication of it is mandatory.
Andrews said meadow knapweed has become "extremely invasive" in other parts of the country, and she urged residents to keep an eye out for it and alert officials if it is discovered. She said it particularly grows in wet pastures and riparian areas.
Meadow knapweeds' key identification points, according to the state, are flowers that are pink to purple and about the size of a nickel, leaves that are 6 inches long and 1 inch wide, and bracts with papery-fringed margins.