Farmers and landowners looking to plant ‘conservation plants’ on their properties need to be on the lookout for a noxious weed that’s been working its way into these seed mixes.
The plant is called Palmer amaranth. It’s a very tall, fast growing plant native to the arid southwest United States. The plant grows on average from six to eight feet tall, but can reach 10 feet. It can also produce 500,000 seeds per plant, making it extremely prolific.
That wide dispersion of seeds is the problem, says state ag spokeswoman Donna Gilson. “You can see how it could spread very very quickly, and it can just decimate a soybean or corn field.”
The amaranth and its seeds are also resistant to traditional forms of pesticide or weed killers, which makes removing the plants from a field an uphill battle. “Those seeds can remain dormant for several years too,” says Gilson, “so if you have to fight it it’s going to be a long expensive battle.”
The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection says the Palmer amaranth was being distributed in specially packed ‘conservation mixes’ for farmers looking to attract pollinators and other beneficial wildlife to their properties, but that the plant could grow wildly out of sync and start overtaking native plants. New emergency rules have classified the amaranth as a noxious seed, making it illegal for growers and distributors to bring the seed into the state.
Anyone planting a pollinator or conservation seed mix should:
- Be aware of what Palmer amaranth looks like. You can find many clear photos in an online image search.
- Buy local seed mixes if possible, with no pigweed or amaranth listed on the label.
- Thoroughly clean equipment after seeding, especially if your seed mix came from out of state.
- Call your University of Wisconsin-Extension office if you suspect you have found Palmer amaranth.
You can find out more about the plant or get help finding local mixes by contacting your local ag office or DATCP at their website.