COLUMN: These ‘wild flowers’ are not so pretty!

Pulling onto North Parallel Road Monday morning, I noticed four young people decked out in rain suits, armed with weed-eaters ...

On the Other Hand by Mark Rushton

Pulling onto North Parallel Road Monday morning, I noticed four young people decked out in rain suits, armed with weed-eaters, wading through a thicket of wild chervil. Parked opposite them was a Fraser Valley Regional District service truck, indicating their employer.

What they were undertaking is a daunting task – attempting to control a noxious weed that has virtually taken over the freeway median and shoulders in this part of the Valley. Particularly hard hit is the section east of Whatcom Road.

While the white flowers of this scourge may look “pretty” to passing motorists, the plant is rapidly taking over not only the median grasses, but adjacent farmland.

Commonly known as cow parsley, it is from the family of that little bit of green you often get served as a garnish on a restaurant meal.

Except this stuff is not edible, nor does it grow in tiny little bunches like the herb we know so well.

In fact, it is considered a very serious threat to forage and vegetable crops due to its invasiveness that, left unchecked, eventually chokes out its competition for growing space.

The plant is native to Europe and the UK, and is thought to have arrived here as part of wildflower seed mixes.

How it managed to infiltrate the Fraser Valley from Abbotsford to Chilliwack is anyone’s guess … perhaps a bride tossed her bouquet out the window en route to honeymoon quarters.

In any event, I first noticed the odd flowering plant a few years ago; two years ago it really began to take off and now is endemic along the freeway corridor.

It is also a survivor, resistant to all herbicides except one. Mowing and trimming with weed-eaters only appears to encourage its survival. However, those two actions at least do, to some extent, curtail the flowering and seed-producing stages which curtails its spreading further.

Soils tilled annually apparently resist its expansion, but fallow pastureland becomes ideal habitat.

According to control suggestions from B.C.’s agriculture ministry, the best way to eradicate the plant is to pull it out of the ground – except that its taproot can extend six feet straight down. Unless those kids with the weed-eaters have herculean strength, that won’t happen.

Once the plant flowers and produces seeds, it dies. Which is a good thing, except in that process its millions of seeds  are borne on the wind or distributed by birds, inundate surrounding lands. And the freeway, with the vortex created by the constant passing of large trucks, is an ideal medium for distribution.

The fertile soils of the Fraser Valley, which so far is the only place in B.C. to be affected by this scourge, are ideal medium for its future propagation.

Unfortunately, the only government efforts at eradication are on public land, with no attempt to my knowledge to enter private property.

This should change.

I recall when tansy ragwort was the noxious weed de jour, the regional district would note the plant in your field and suggest you eliminate it, or they would do it for you. Combined with a public education program, that worked, and the weed is now relatively rare.

This needs to take place with wild chervil.

What also needs to occur is judicious application of the herbicide dicamba.

Otherwise, what we like to call the breadbasket of British Columbia may soon by irreparably damaged.

markrushton@abbynews.com