Last week, I climbed into my tent after a long day of fire monitoring. As I slithered into my sleeping bag, I heard a soft drizzle, much like the sound of a very full rain stick. I looked down to see seeds pouring out of my shirt. Months of seed collecting have honed my rapid estimation of seed quantity. So, I watched, amazed, as several thousand Sisymbrium altissimum seeds flowed out of my sleeves, my pants pockets, and the linings of my shoes. Further inspection revealed tumble mustard seeds had made it into my ears, under my fingernails, and were even stuck between my teeth (like that unfortunate poppy seed no one will tell you about).
To work in the field is to not only study but to interact with the plants that I so love. I don’t just read about the widespread weediness of cheatgrass, I feel its needle-like seeds scratching away at my ankles. I don’t simply learn how medusa head is spread, but have had my wool socks co-opted by this adventurous grass. Everyday I fight hard to avoid become a vector for the aggressive graminoids I so despise.
The more time I spend with invasive plants (and their super villain cousins the noxious weeds) the more my ardent hatred is replaced by a healthy respect and even admiration. These foul little plants each have suites of adaptations that allow them to spread rapidly, grow quickly, and, unfortunately, disrupt the ecosystems I am in Nevada to protect and study. That fact (and the blisters they are giving me) makes us sworn enemies. But I can’t help but admire these precocious plants.