Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

The Country Life: The good and the bad are blooming on Colorado's prairie

4 photos photo - Hank, left, and Blue in a flower-filled pasture.

PHOTO COURTESY OF MARGARET RADFORD + caption
Hank, left, and Blue in a flower-filled pasture. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARGARET RADFORD
By Bill Radford Updated: July 1, 2014 at 3:04 pm 0

It's another stormy summer evening, and the sky is bruised with forbidding slashes of gray and black. The top of Pikes Peak, far to the west, is shrouded in clouds.

But a hole has opened up in the northwest corner of the evening sky, and the last daggers of sunlight are slicing across our pasture. The field seems ablaze with a golden fire. As the wind picks up, yellow flowers awash in the dying sunlight flow like ripples in a lake.

The first day of summer has come and gone. And instead of fretting that the days are getting shorter, I'm trying to focus on the beauty that spring and summer have ushered in.

Our pasture, and many of the fields in eastern El Paso County, are dominated by those yellow flowers; our neighbors say the area is typically thick with them this time of year, but my wife and I don't remember them being nearly as prevalent last summer - our first living in the country.

I'm not sure whether our horse and mule are feasting on the flowers, but our goats enjoy them. Online research led us to believe the flowers are lanceleaf coreopsis, or lanceleaf tickweed, a native species that, according to wildflower.org, "often forms sizable colonies along roadsides and in old fields." Tina Travis, an environmental technician with El Paso County, said the flowers are likely a different member of the coreopsis family: the plains coreopsis.

Lanceleaf coreopsis is a perennial; the plains coreopsis is an annual. Either way, they're cheerful, daisylike flowers.

"Weather has a big control over the (plains) coreoposis," Travis said. "They only come up one time of the year, and if weather conditions aren't right for them to come up, they are not going to come up profusely. This year we have gotten the rain that we haven't gotten in a long time, and everything has been perfect for those seeds to germinate. It's absolutely beautiful out there."

Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. Some might enjoy the white flowers that also have blossomed in some fields, in some instances clustering to resemble patches of snow. But they're field bindweed, which is a noxious weed. (Noxious weeds, which pop up in the city as well, have been defined as such by a local advisory board and are aggressive, detrimental to crops or native plant communities, or poisonous to livestock.)

You can try to pull the bindweed out, but since the roots can extend 20 feet deep, don't expect a lot of success. Biological methods are the most effective against bindweed, Travis said.

I'd be surprised if anyone enjoys Canada thistle, another noxious weed that has sprouted up in our pasture, but thankfully, only sparingly. The county guide to noxious weeds states that "hand-pulling is not an option" - presumably because the spine-tipped leaves will rip your hand open. I attack them wearing gloves and armed with loppers that I use to cut them close to the ground; mowing is effective if done regularly enough. (Canada thistle, despite its name, is a native of Eurasia, but came to Canada in the 1600s as a contaminant in seed crop.)

We also have common mullein, yet another noxious weed - though, again, only a bit here and there. According to the county's noxious weed guide, common mullein also originated in Eurasia (that's quite a trip) and its seeds can remain viable in the soil for more than 80 years. The good news is, they're easy to pull out early on.

Much more welcome and visually appealing are the purple lupines - a member of the legume family - that have sprouted at a few spots in our yard.

The bad news is that some species of lupines are toxic to livestock, so apparently we need to keep the pasture clear of them.

Also interesting are the tall, concentrated clumps of grass showing up everywhere, particularly along roadsides. As far as I can determine, it's some form of speargrass. (According to the National Park Service, speargrass - also known as needle-and-thread grass- is a hit with kids who like to toss the "spears" at each other.)

Bottom line: I never know what I'm going to find growing in the countryside. And it's always evolving; if we repeat last summer, we'll have a wave of different, sunflower-type yellow flowers in late summer. (That's also fly season, but that's another story.)

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Bill Radford and his wife live in the country east of Colorado Springs with a menagerie that includes a horse, a mule, two goats, three dogs, two cats, a half-dozen chickens, two rabbits and two parrots. Contact him: Twitter @billradfordiii, gazettebillradford

on Facebook. Follow his blog at blogs.gazette.com/thecountrylife.

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