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Tinker Mitigates Invasive Weeds

several stages of the Musk Thistle plant.

The Musk Thistle, sometimes known as the nodding thistle, is an aggressive, invasive noxious weed that has been found on Tinker Air Force Base for the first time. This photo shows the various stages of the flower from the newly formed flower phase to the large rose-purple bulb, then the drying phase. The third flower from the left shows the seeds starting to come out to spread. One plant can contain up to 20,000 seeds. (Air Force photo by Kimberly Woodruff)

Woman chopping down weeds with hatchet.

Donna Nolan, Natural Resources technician goes about the task of chopping down stalks of the Musk Thistle, an invasive noxious weed found for the first time on Tinker Air Force Base. The weed is an biennial, so only reproduces only from the seed, so chopping it down is the best way to get rid of the plant and ensure the seeds don't have an opportunity to spread. (Air Force photo by Kimberly Woodruff)

Woman talking in a field.

Donna Nolan, Natural Resources technician describes the large nodding purple flower of the Musk Thistle, an invasive noxious weed found for the first time on Tinker Air Force Base. In the lower left, a flower head has opened to expose thousands of white seeds that can be carried in the wind and spread. (Air Force photo by Kimberly Woodruff)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

A nefarious enemy has found its way to Tinker Air Force Base, but there is no cause for alarm as this enemy is a weed.

The Musk Thistle, sometimes called the nodding thistle, is an aggressive and invasive noxious weed from the sunflower family that is a prolific seed producer. That may not seem too distressing, but according to Natural Resources technician Donna Nolan, one plant can produce up to 20,000 seeds, and the seeds can stay active in the ground for many years.

This is the first time the thistle has been found on Tinker.  

“Many states, to include Oklahoma, have declared the Musk Thistle a noxious weed, and it is mandated that land owners must mitigate the spread of this weed or may face fines or imprisonment, or both,” said John Krupovage, Natural Resources manager. As a Federal Reserve, Tinker must comply with the Federal Noxious Weed Act.

Krupovage added that livestock won’t graze in areas of heavy infestation of the spiny thistle that crowds out the desirable forage plants.

“We want to be responsible land stewards and good neighbors, so at the first discovery of the weed, the Natural Resources team and base haying lessee immediately began to mitigate the spread,” said Krupovage.

Since the weeds are not long-lived perennials, they don’t need to be pulled up by the roots. The team can just use an axe or machete and chop them down by hand as long as they are cut low enough to prohibit regrowth. The cut plants must be removed from the field and properly disposed.

The plant itself has a large rose-purple flower shaped like a ball that droops. After the flower fades, seeds are released and scatter in the wind, invading and contaminating surrounding land.

 If anyone comes across this plant, Nolan warns not to touch it. She speaks from experience when she says the spines on the plant cause unpleasant irritation to the skin. The plant has spiny leaves and may have some fine hairs on the underside of the leaves.

Call the Natural Resources office at 739-7074 if you spot this weed on base, so it can be removed safely.

The Air Force is committed to preserving and protecting the natural environment as it accomplishes its military mission. The maintaining of natural resources is one way Tinker AFB is remaining good stewards of the environment.