There is a new threat to the native plants and wildlife that call the
South Platte River their home. That threat is the noxious weed Saltcedar
(a.k.a. Tamarisk). What is a “noxious weed”? Noxious weeds, such as
Saltcedar, are highly aggressive, invasive, non-native plants that outcompete
native vegetation for sunlight, moisture, and nutrients. Noxious weeds
have serious impacts on Colorado’s natural areas, recreational opportunities,
and agriculture. The Colorado Noxious Weed Act of 1996, requires all
public and private landowners to control any State-listed noxious weeds
on their properties and preventing their spread onto neighboring lands.
A little background on this menacing plant; Saltcedar is a deciduous
or evergreen shrub or small tree, typically growing 5 to 30 feet tall.
The bark is reddish-brown and the leaves are small and scale-like and
overlap eachother on the stem. Thousands of small pink to white flowers
appear from March to September. Saltcedar reproduces by root spread
and by seed and can produce up to 500,000 seeds per plant per year.
The small seeds have a tuft of hair attached to the end allowing them
to float long distances on the wind and water.
Saltcedar was introduced into North America in the early 1800’s from
southern Europe or the eastern Mediterranean region. It was originally
used for ornamental plantings (landscaping) as well as for windbreaks
and erosion control. By the mid-1800’s, Saltcedar had escaped and infested
many of the rivers and drainages in the Southwestern part of the Country.
As a result, native plants have been displaced. Currently, Saltcedar
infestations are common in most river systems from California to Texas,
even in Florida. In Colorado, Saltcedar is widespread along the South
Platte River in Adams County and along the Colorado River near Glenwood
Canyon. The Arkansas River in the southern part of the State is impacted
by dense Saltcedar infestations as well.
Why is Saltcedar such a problem? First of all, Saltcedar loves water.
It loves water so much that a single plant will consume about 200 gallons
per day while it is actively growing. With that kind of water consumption,
the total water flow along rivers and drainages can be reduced or even
eliminated. Combine that with the drought Colorado is in and our rivers
are in serious jeopardy. Another problem is how saltcedar affects the
soils it grows in. Once it invades an area, Saltcedar exudes salt from
its leaves, which in turn increases the salinity of the surrounding
soils. The excreted salts will eventually form a saline crust on the
soil. As a result, native plant establishment is prevented. Without
native plants, such as cottonwoods, willows, grasses, and forbs, the
population and diversity of wildlife is drastically reduced in infested
Management of saltcedar requires a long-term commitment and a lot of
persistence utilizing a variety of methods, including mechanical, chemical,
and cultural. Once
an infested area is successfully managed, re-invasion must be prevented
to achieve long-term control. This can be done by revegetating the area
with beneficial plants that are salt-tolerant. Still, the best method
of all is prevention. If you find this plant, please report it to your
local Weed Department or Extension Office.