There’s a reason why hawkweed is known devil’s paintbrush. (Such names aren’t given to angelic plants, right?). Hawkweed is now listed as one of Top Ten noxious weeds in the U.S. and is reported in all by 15 states.
Hawkweed has managed to find its way to many exotic places. Mount Rainier National Park is coping with yellow hawkweed, a close cousin to orange hawkweed, is threatening to take over the wildflower meadows, earning a place in Washington’s “Noxious Weed Coloring Book.” Other recent victims include New Zealand and Australia, to the dismay of local farmers and ranchers since even cattle won’t eat it.
Speaking of ranchers, in Idaho, researchers are trying to figure out a way to take a bite out of hawkweed. One scientist visited a local pasture and was amazed to find an impenetrable mat of hairy, ground-hugging leaves. He counted as many as 3,200 hawkweed plants per square yard. “They were literally on top of each other.”
Hawkweed is closely related to the dandelion, also a member of the Asteraceae family. In fact, Hawkweed, with its 10,000+ recorded species and subspecies, do their part to make Asteraceae the second largest family of flowers. But if you’re a homeowner in Kodiak, you don’t want to hear those statistics.
Blythe Brown, aka “The Weed Lady” has one piece of advice for anyone dealing with hawkweed: “Now that it’s blooming, people need to pull off the blooms before they go to seed.”
Orange hawkweed looks like a small blushing daisy on a tall, hairy stem. Many gardeners fall under its spell and think, “Oh, what a pretty flower.” And that’s exactly how it emigrated from Europe and leapfrogged its way across the U.S.
Once hawkweed appears in your yard, trouble begins. For many homeowners, it can mean the beginning of the end to their nice lawn, raised beds and other planted spaces as they struggle to get rid of it.
Noxious weeds are a problem for everyone. For starters, you might see a substantial decrease in property value. Who wants a yard carpeted with weeds? According to the Committee for Noxious and Invasive Plants Management in Alaska (CNIPM), noxious or invasive plants have the ability to dominate native vegetation. “They grow rapidly, mature early and are able to reproduce both sexually and vegetatively.” This enables invasive plants to out-compete native vegetation, like the researchers in Idaho discovered.
Entire ecosystems can be altered as plant communities--from wildflower meadows and pastures to wetlands and waterways--change from native to nonnative. On Kodiak Island, several hawkweed “hot spots” have choked out many acres of native wildflowers.
How to identify hawkweed? You can see local hot spots along Mission Road and below the Baranov Museum. Several villages have it, too. Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) is a perennial plant (which means it returns each year) with shallow, fibrous roots. Its leaves are hairy, up to 5 inches long, and develop at the base of the plant. The 12 to 18-inch stems are usually leafless, although they are covered with small hairs. The orange-red flowers form at the top of the stems.
The appearance of hawkweed is a gardener’s curse worse than dandelions and chickweed, mostly because it can live happily ever after in poor soils. What’s more, it spreads by not one, but several different ways. Seeds are dispersed by wind and are easily carried on vehicles, animals, shoes and clothing. Hawkweed also sends out underground runners and surface stolons, much like strawberry plants. Eventually, the roots form a tightly woven mat that eventually chokes out other plants, including native plants.
Steven Seefeldt of the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service said in his PowerPoint presentation, “Alaska Hawkweed and Control of the Orange One,” orange hawkweed first appeared in Juneau in 1961.
How to control hawkweed?
For small isolated patches, pulling out the clumps (making sure you get every last bit of root and rhizome) is very effective. (Double bag it before disposing of it). Boiling hot water or vinegar poured onto the base of the plant can be effective too, depending on how dry/wet the area is and how established the plants are.
The problem escalates when larger areas become infested. Seefeldt says that mowing large areas of hawkweed only spreads it further. For large areas, it seems the best way to eradicate it is by using herbicides. Even Jeff Lowenfels, Mr. Organic Gardener and weekly columnist for the Alaska Dispatch says that if your yard is overrun with hawkweed, “apply herbicides and start over.”
That said, you must follow the label on the container exactly as written. Remember, more is not always better and ‘the label is the law.’
The only way to enjoy hawkweed flowers is to pick them for disposal or to adorn a vase. But you’d better toss out the bouquet before the seeds blow out the window. All in all, it’s best to heed the advice from Lewis J. Clark, author of the book, Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest: “Introduce into one’s garden with peril.”
The garden job jar:
Pull hawkweed flowers off their stems before they go to seed.
Deadhead annuals and perennial flowers
Weed. Weed some more.
Go on slug offensive maneuvers.
Sow more lettuce, spinach, salad greens, peas, broccoli and kale.
Thin carrots and beets.
Is your garlic ready for harvest? Dig down to check your underground garlic bulbs for ripeness.
Hoophouse and greenhouse folks: Be on the alert for gray mold, aphids.