Buffalobur nightshade is a nasty native plant of the southwest, but has spread to every state in the Lower 48. If you find one, notify your county weed superintendent and carefully pull it up and dispose of it.
Among my wife’s green bean plants was a curiosity. As a young plant, it resembled watermelon leaves and Cathy was excited by the prospect of a volunteer watermelon. As it matured though, it became apparent that it was not a watermelon.
The stem grew and began to bristle with spines (actually called prickles, but that seems too benign. They truly are fearsome weapons). Large pretty yellow flowers, with one pollen anther longer than the others, bloomed. The flowers ripened into round spine-covered burrs suitable as medieval torture tools. No, this was not a watermelon.
As the plant matured, it looked more and more malicious and Cathy insisted that I pull it out. Before I did, she researched the internet for identification and I grabbed my camera for a couple of record shots.
Cathy’s research quickly led to one plant: buffalobur nightshade. The first thing we found about this very wicked looking plant is that, unlike many similarly armed plants, this one did not originate in Eurasia. It is native to the southwestern United States. It is very common in Texas where it is also known as Texas thistle, southern Arizona and northern Mexico. It fits in well in that region where it seems every plant has some kind of nasty armament.
It is also a very adaptable plant. While you won’t find it (yet) in Alaska and Hawaii, it is in every other state. It has made the short list of highly undesirable plants officially called noxious weeds in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. However, according to the latest map I could find, it has not been reported in Bonneville County—until now.
While Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of Austin, Texas, claims the seeds are an important food source for quail, they state, “The prickles on this highly toxic plant help to discourage grazing by livestock.” Discourage? That seems like an amazingly mild word for it.
The toxic nature of this plant mentioned by the Wildflower Center comes from several factors. First, it is reported that the spines are coated in a substance that irritates the wound long after the spine is removed.
The second toxin relates to the fact that this plant is a member of the nightshade family. This family includes economically important plant such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, bell and chili peppers and tobacco. Many contain alkaloids though, that may be toxic even in low doses. For instance, eating the leaves of potatoes as greens sickened the British royal family before their chef learned to throw the leaves away and eat the tubers.
How this plant ended up growing among our beans is a bit of a mystery. Buffalobur is an annual that forms a “tumbleweed” at maturity dispersing seeds as it rolls along. I am certain that no such tumbleweed has ever entered my garden. So, I must suppose that it was a stowaway among the bean seeds.
It is gone now, and we are wiser. We realize that just because it looks like a watermelon and grows where watermelons have grown in the past, looks can be deceiving. We must look past the obvious, and see if there are spines ready to poke and poison.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho