Wildgrapes, marijuana, buckthorn

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub,

Where are our goats when we need them? Once upon a time when the world was young, we had a yen for raising goats. Mom Kate vetoed the idea, saying we’d regret ever trying to do so, but after pleading with her as to the rich milk a Saunan goat would produce, she relented. That breed of goat was gentle, easy to milk, but as the years passed, more goats were added until they were, well, pestiferous to say the least. When they began prancing atop Mom’s car, they were sent to the banks of the Minnesota River where they multiplied. And multiplied. Their demise came suddenly and with a shock. It seems they’d go to the river to drink, and goats have sharp hooves. As there were many small ‘kid’ goats, when entering the river, their wee hooves would become stuck in the mud, the unpredictable river water would rise, with drowning the inevitably sad result. Thus ended the great goat experiment.

As of late, goats have been frequently featured by numerous news sources as the answer to a forestry problem, that of the notorious nefarious glossy buckthorn. (pictured in today’s photos.) Buckthorn berries are a deep blue or purple in color, the vegetation is a shrub or small tree, and typically the branches are thorny. Brought from Europe to America in mid-1800’s, nurseries sold buckthorn as a plant for hedges, but soon stopped the practice as the beast is aggressive to put it mildly. In fact, we can’t say one good word about buckthorn! The plant grows quickly, outcompetes other desirable trees as its leafy crown steals the sunlight from preferred trees and plants. It lacks natural control by insects, when established fights with its last breath to be free to spread. But oh, the beautiful berries. Inedible by humans and other mammals, yet consumed by birds which defecate the seeds thus planting more buckthorn. To top it off, the trees are now illegal to sell or transport. Goats seem to be the only living creature which can seemingly control the invader, as few chemicals kill the plant, and one last resort is to pull and burn the plant. Have you ever pulled buckthorn? If not, try it, then report to the nearest chiropractor, and finally, hire a goat.

Growing nearby buckthorn, same woodland, similar soil conditions, one finds wild grapes, sometimes called frost grapes or fox grapes.
At this writing, they are turning from Irish green to blue. They have a snappy crisp bite to the tongue, yet are sweet and one clamors for more. They are a great trail snack, however, as birds eat them and leave their calling cards, it’s best to wash before nibbling. As their fructose content increases after frost, they become more delectable as autumn draws on. When gathered in large amounts and pressed, the juice makes a wonder yet powerful drink. Jelly from a wild grape is out of this world, but there is heavy competition. Deer, squirrels, racoons, possums all love wild grapes, and robins, yellow shafted flickers may beat you to the grape vine. In fact, the greater the wild grape crop, the more flickers will remain over winter. Many woodland borders are currently festooned with this freebee bounty.

Due to the overabundant moisture of the spring and summer of 2019, wild grapes, buckthorn and woodland vegetation have outdone themselves in leaves, foliage and fruit.
Wild marijuana in ditches and along country fence rows is standing straight and tall…the female plant in the photo reaches over ten feet in height, and is ready for Jack of beanstalk fame to hike up its stem. Birds have done an extraordinary job of spreading the plant about. Remind anyone who might be tempted that the beautiful green plant is illegal to sow or possess, and besides that, we are told that it doesn’t give one a ‘high.’ There you have it; three interesting Minnesota examples of vegetation growing within 300 feet of one another, oblivious to the world about them.

Short shots: Chimney Swifts continue to migrate in the skies of the area, choosing open chimneys found in LeSueur and Henderson. This week, more than 600 of the mysterious birds have roosted in a particular stack each night, dropping down just after sunset. In other natural events, talented photographer Bruce Bjork’s lens captured over one-hundred-ten white egrets on a large floodwater area during the week. Canada geese by the hundreds may be sighted on harvested sweet corn and small grain fields, and a plethora of white-tailed deer can be observed in alfalfa and clover fields each evening at sundown. In the meantime, many eyes are zeroed in on the Minnesota River. Will she, or will she not provide just one more flood for Henderson inhabitants?