The Taos Chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico awakens from our winter dormancy on March 20. We will welcome Ben Wright and Juniper Manley, of the Taos Land Trust, who will update us on the ecological restoration projects that have been taking place over the last three years at Río Fernando Park. Wright, the TLT Education and Land Projects coordinator, says they will discuss "the restoration plans, the monitoring plans, the funding for the projects and the diverse groups of Taos Land Trust staff and interns, contractors, youth crews, students and community volunteers that have participated in the projects." Join us at 6 p.m. Wednesday (March 20) in the boardroom of the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, 118 Cruz Alta Road.
Water, water everywhere
What a winter this has been, especially compared to last year. Every day I measure the precipitation (rain plus melted snow) that falls at my house near University of New Mexico-Taos and report it to a citizen science initiative called CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network - cocorahs.org) based at Colorado State University. I reviewed my reports for the time period October 1 through March 4 for both this winter and last: 5.85 inches precipitation and 41.1 inches snow this winter versus 2.04 inches precipitation and 8.8 inches snow for 2017-2018.
A critical measurement calculated by CoCoRaHS is the precipitation reported in a Water Year (WY is from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30). Those numbers at my location were 7.06 inches for WY ending in 2018 and 15.13 inches for 2017. Wow! what a difference!
Hopefully, the heavy snows are over, although I know all gardeners and farmers welcome precipitation in any form, anytime. We just have to grit our teeth while slogging and sliding through mud, with the knowledge that this, too, shall pass.
Is that a native plant or invasive weed?
In addition to anticipating abundant spring and summer blooms from our native wildflowers, thanks to all this water, we will likely be inundated with invasive weeds as well.
So what is an invasive weed? First, let's define a native plant: "A plant that is a part of the balance of nature that has developed over hundreds or thousands of years in a particular region or ecosystem." Compare that to the definition of an invasive plant: "A plant that is both nonnative and able to establish on many sites, grow quickly and spread to the point of disrupting plant communities or ecosystems." Both definitions are from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The common usage of the word weed is "a plant (native or nonnative) that is not valued in the place where it is growing." Salt cedar, chicory, musk thistle and teasel are among our best-known invasive weeds. Some of our native plants can be weedy in nature; for example, the cowpen daisy that spreads from fields into your vegetable garden in the summer.
The worst weeds are deemed noxious, that is, legally specified with negative economic impact. Thistles are among the most common; but did you know there are 12 species of native thistles throughout New Mexico and only four nonnative noxious ones? In Taos County alone there are six species of native thistles that support many species of native pollinators, so it pays to know your thistles, a few of which are pictured here. You can download a copy of Bob Sivinski's "New Mexico Thistle Identification Guide" in the resources/book section of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico website: npsnm.org/plant-id-collection.
I've been attending monthly meetings of the Taos County Cooperative Weed Management Area, chaired by Town Councilor Fritz Hahn and advised by Jim Wanstall, noxious weed specialist with the state Department of Agriculture. This action group comprises many representatives from local, state and federal government agencies, as well as nonprofits and interested citizens. Its purpose is to promote interest in and awareness of invasive species by education and hands-on mitigation efforts. Invasive plant species have been cited as one of the greatest threats to endangered native species (according to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, noxious weed information) and are considered by some as an "invisible forest fire" in our communities, capable of strangling our native flora and clogging our waterways.
Keep an eye on the Taos Weed Action Group Facebook page at facebook.com/taosweedag. A community education event is planned for June 1 to teach attendees how to identify invasive species by lectures and a tour of local weed fields.
For more weed information
Here's a list of websites with helpful information about the threat of invasive species (including noxious weeds).
• To start, visit the Native Plant Society of New Mexico's website, npsnm.org/education/native-plants, for a good discussion of the importance of native plants.
• Find definitions of invasive species and noxious weeds at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture: nmda.nmsu.edu/apr/noxious-weed-information.
• The USDA National Resources Conservation Service offers advice at nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/ct/technical/ecoscience/invasive/?cid=nrcs142p2_011124.
• The New Mexico State University Extension Service hosts a blog about native plants: NMSUdesertblooms.blogspot.com. This blog answers common questions about both native and invasive plants and care/treatment thereof.
• Visit the "New Mexico Thistle Identification Guide" (free download) at npsnm.org/plant-id-collection.
NPSNM - Taos Chapter calendar
Our monthly meetings, open to the public, are held the third Wednesdays of each month at 6 p.m. in the boardroom at Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, 118 Cruz Alta Road. Look for updates in the Taos News Calendar, on our chapter webpage npsnm.org/about/chapters/taos, or our Facebook page (search for "Native Plant Society New Mexico Taos Chapter"). Hikes and field trips will start in May. Join in on the fun and support the NPSNM education and outreach efforts at npsnm.org/about/join.
Videos of past meetings can be found at tinyurl.com/mhds73l.
March 20, monthly meeting: Ecological Restoration Projects at Río Fernando Park. Led by Ben Wright, Taos Land Trust Education and Land Projects coordinator, and Juniper Manley, TLT associate director.
April 17, monthly meeting: Title TBA. Marisa Thompson, urban horticultural specialist, NMSU Extension Plant Sciences, Los Lunas, New Mexico.
April 28, 11:30 a.m-1 p.m. Special Event: Gardening with Natives, a roundtable discussion, with Gail Haggard, Plants of the Southwest, Santa Fe. Location TBA. Reservations required (members of NPSNM have first priority) - see below for contact information.
How to contact us
This column is printed every second Thursday of the month. For suggestions or questions, please contact us at TaosNPS@gmail.com, or call (575) 751-0511.
Martenson is the president of the Taos Chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico and a member of the board of NPSNM.
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