Alibi V.24 No.17 • April 23-29, 2015 

Feature

Weeds

When the green’s got to go

Puncture weed, also known as goatheads.
Puncture weed, also known as goatheads.
City of Albuquerque
Here in the desert southwest, any speck of green is a sight for dry eyes. But that is not the case if the green is an invasive and noxious plant species, also known as a “weed.”

They are everywhere. Their thorny spawn impale our tender feet, pop our bicycle tires, burrow into our pet's furriness and reproduce seemingly overnight. Their pollen wreaks havoc on our airways, and zombie tumbleweeds take dead aim at our cars as we barrel down windy New Mexico highways. On the other hand, some make for a tasty stir fry with pinto beans and green chile.

The urban weedscape

The City of Albuquerque defines a weed as rank, noxious, poisonous, harmful vegetation that is deleterious to health. Bernalillo County defines them as an unsightly and economically useless plant. The US Department of Agriculture defines them as any aggressive, toxic, parasitic or undesired plant that competes with other, desired plants. Albuquerque has a hit list of 16 weeds (available at bit.ly/1cWnEZ9). The county and the feds include the weeds on the city’s list and add a bunch of shrubs, trees and other plants too.

On the other hand, some make for a tasty stir fry with pinto beans and green chile.

In Burque city limits, it is illegal to harbor any amount of weeds with a height, width or spread greater than four inches. Most weed complaints come into the city’s Code Enforcement Division from residents calling to report problem properties. City inspectors are out and about, and often find weedy properties on their own, without complaints. Rhiannon Schroeder, city communications coordinator, said in an email that if a weed problem is not resolved and a judge determines the property owner is guilty, then a fine of $150 and/or 90 days in jail could be handed down. But there is help available for disabled or elderly city property owners who are struggling to keep up with pesky weeds. Schroeder said the best way to get help is to call the city’s help line at 311.

Anyone who drives around the city has come across a patch of weeds growing tall on public property, suggesting a bit of hypocrisy if and when the city prosecutes a private property owner. But Albuquerque’s Clean City Project Manager Dan Humbles is all over it. He is responsible for keeping the city’s public roadways, medians and other dirt spaces clear of weeds. Not an easy task. “They can be a problem,” Humbles admits. “We have crews out seven days a week.”

Tansy mustard
Tansy mustard
City of Albuquerque
Humbles and this reporter agreed that one of the most hated urban weeds are puncture vines or goat heads. He said it is best to get these buggers early in the growing cycle, before they seed those nasty thorns. Don’t be shy; rip them out of the ground; a paw, tire or foot will thank you.

Along the Bosque

Our native Bosque is under siege from several invasive shrubs and trees, including tree of heaven, tamarisk/salt cedar, Russian olives and Siberian elms. These plants push out the cottonwoods and other native plants, and don’t provide the nesting habitat needed for native species of birds and wildlife. Many government agencies fund Bosque restoration projects from Cochiti to Socorro. These projects have cleared out countless invasive plants. Herds of goats have even been used to eat up the invasive plants along the river. If you want to help, the city’s Open Space Division has a volunteer program that allows people to take care of a section of the Bosque.

Forest and agriculture land

The United States Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service consider invasive species a serious, worldwide threat to natural resources. The National Resource Inventory found that invasive, noxious and exotic plants are spreading at a rate of 8 to 12 percent a year across the nation’s Federal lands. And it is not just weeds. In the mountains and rangeland of New Mexico, trees and shrubs like juniper and mesquite are spreading fast. These are hungry and thirsty creatures, sucking up water and nutrients at an alarming rate, thereby edging out and replacing native grasses and other plants. This creates a domino effect that impacts area habitats for birds and other wildlife. The Forest Service also offers volunteer opportunities to help control invasive plants in our forests.

But are they tasty?

Field biindweed
Field biindweed
City of Albuquerque
Weeds have been part of New Mexico’s regional diet for centuries. My grandmother, like many other native New Mexican abuelitas, would make a dish out of chicharones, pinto beans, green chile and purslane (verdolaga) or lamb’s quarters (quelitas). Other edible weeds include pigweed (amaranth) and London rocket. The leaves of both can be cooked like spinach and other greens. If you are adventurous, then some sautéed jalapeño and tumbleweed sprouts might be a good choice. For more information on edible weeds, the Old School offers classes on local, medicinal weeds and wild food foraging: Check them out at abqoldschool.com. Urban foragers beware; Humbles said the city uses killer spray such as Roundup to keep weeds under control. You don’t want Roundup tea or quelitas.