The Weed That’s Eating Colorado

So many of the weeds that are taking over this area were brought to this country on purpose. For example, the tamarisk was brought over from Europe to control erosion, and now it’s considered an unkillable monster that sucks up tremendous amounts of water that could be better used for native plants. Some people still think it was a good bargain because it will grow in salty and alkaline soils that other plants avoid, but then, the tamarisk helped create those dry salty basins in the first place. It’s no wonder it’s on the invasive plants list.

People are more familiar with the problem of kudzu, the plant that ate the south. Kudzu is native to Japan and Southeastern China, and was also brought over to control erosion. The vine grows as much as a foot a day! Yikes. I’d hate to have to deal with that sort of growth. I’m having a hard enough time with my own nemesis, kochia.

Around here the weed is known erroneously as ragweed, though the weed I spend so much time digging up is a completely different plant. It took me a while, but I finally tracked down the name, one I’d never heard of, though I’m not sure why. Kochia might not be eating Colorado, but it is so ubiquitous, it sure seems as if it is consuming the state!

Kochia, also known as fireweed because of its red foliage in the fall, was brought over here from Eurasia in the 1900s as an ornamental garden plant. I suppose it might be pretty as a red shrub, but I’ve never seen it turn red. It mostly dries out in the fall, turns into a tumbleweed, and spreads its seeds however far it roams. I’ve discovered it’s easiest to pull the kochia plants when they are small, though after it rains, even plants as tall as two feet can easily be pulled up. If they are left alone, they can grow as tall as seven feet. And by then, I’d need a machete to chop them down because there is no way I could ever pull up such a weed! Luckily, I’ve managed to stay on top of the growth, though just this morning I found a whole bunch of one- and two-foot weeds hidden away behind bushes and tomato plants.

It is a drought resistant-plant, so anyone around here who doesn’t take care of their yard ends up with a kochia forest. And when it rains, watch out! Those things grow fast, though luckily, not as fast as kudzu.

As much of a problem as kochia is in Colorado, you’d think people would be trying to eradicate it, but instead, some farmers in the Southwest grow it for forage. Makes sense, actually, since it is drought resistant and its feed value is just slightly less than alfalfa. But I don’t need the forage. Nor do I look forward to all the seeds from my neighbor’s kochia-infested yard finding a home on my property. At least I have a fence, so any tumbleweeds will have to find another resting place.

I don’t suppose it really matters what the name of this weed is — it is what it is, and a name doesn’t change anything — but with a name I can at least find out what I am dealing with.

And what I am dealing with is a rapidly spreading, drought-resistant invasive plant that really isn’t very pretty.


Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.