Capital Press

Two new guides from the Natural Resources Conservation Service will help farmers ward off an undesirable plant or add a beneficial one.

The service's Plant Materials Center office in Pullman, Wash., recently published guides for the weed medusahead and the beneficial sticky purple geranium.

Center Manager Mark Stannard said the program tries to offer informational material about any plants of interest as information is developed.

"Rather than have the world's smartest filing cabinets, we want to get that information out," he said.

Stannard said there are concerns about medusahead becoming a problem on rangeland, roadsides and highly disturbed areas in regions that typically receive more than 12 inches of rainfall. It's already a problem in Southern Idaho and Utah, he said.

The weed is similar to cheatgrass as a fuel for fire, producing a thick thatch. It's competitive against more desirable forest species and cattle dislike it, Stannard said.

Medusahead is spread by seed, which gets caught in the coats of cattle or equipment. Herbicides combat it, Stannard said, but it can grow on steep terrain that is hard to reach.

"Once it gets a little foothold, it doesn't take very long for it to spread," he said. "Once it gets established, it's very difficult to get rid of."

Sticky geranium is a native plant generating interest among people looking to restore land to natural prairie or to develop pollinator insect populations, such as bees and butterflies.

The center has been growing the plant for several years, and is interested in learning whether it could be grown commercially, Stannard said.

"A lot of our native species, they're wild plants and very difficult to grow agronomically," he said. "This is one we're quite interested in."

Orchards that only see pollinating insects for about two weeks may possibly be able to put plants like sticky geranium around their perimeters to improve pollination, Stannard said.

Sticky geranium grows in the Palouse of Washington state and is spread by seed, growing quite readily in rocky areas. The seedlings are not very competitive with other plants, Stannard said.

"There might be some growers out there that might be interested in growing the seed," he said. "In the Conservation Reserve Program, they are going to be cost-sharing farmers to be putting in plantings that are beneficial to pollinators."

According to a Partners for Sustainable Pollination press release, new USDA rules offer financial incentives for farmers to establish pollinator habitat through the program. The limited-time signup opened Aug. 2 to new enrollments.

The field guides are available for download on the conservation service's Plant Materials website.


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