Friday, June 22, 2001BY -- Whether it's the azure-blue of Mountain Bluebells in the high country, or the candy-yellow of Balsamroot spread along fence lines in the valleys, the Treasure State never disappoints when it comes to dazzling floral displays. But beware...there are imposters in our midst! Each year, more and more of the colorful displays we see blanketing Montana's countryside are the result of noxious weed infestations, not wildflowers. In fact, these invasive, non-native plants are rapidly taking over our state, replacing many native plants as they go. For example, consider spotted knapweed. This plant boasts a very attractive purple to lavender bloom, and so bouquets of these weeds frequently end up in pop-bottle-vases on picnic tables, on the dashes of RVs, and in the hands of hikers throughout the summer. "It's growing wild, it's pretty, so what's the problem?" you might ask. Wolves In Sheep's Clothing Here's the problem. Spotted knapweed out-competes many native plants, including those species upon which wildlife rely for food. It forms dense stands that quickly become monocultures of knapweed and nothing else. Knapweed plants establish deep taproots, which enable them to rob native vegetation of moisture and nutrients, and allows them to survive through even the harshest drought conditions. Individual plants can produce over 40,000 seeds in a single season, and those seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to 10 years. In other words, knapweed doesn't just join the plant community...it BECOMES the plant community! Spotted knapweed was first collected in Gallatin County, Montana in the mid-1920s, but quickly spread. Today, this plant can be found in every county in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington. It is estimated that spotted knapweed infests over 4 million acres in Montana alone and costs the state over $40 million annually. A Host of Invaders Spotted knapweed is just one of many noxious weeds that are impacting our way of life in Montana. The following statewide noxious weed list currently contains 23 different weed species, each of which represent a serious threat to our economy and the environment. Join The Battle!! So, what can you do to help in the fight against noxious weeds? Here are just a few ways we all can make a difference: * Learn to identify noxious weeds that exist in your part of the state; * Avoid parking, walking or driving in weed-infested areas; * Stay on designated roads and trails; * Wash vehicles (especially the undercarriage) following any trip that takes you off-road, and * Remove seeds and plant material from clothing, equipment and animals. For more information on noxious weeds, contact your County Weed District, or contact FWP's Weed Management Coordinator at (406) 444-3032, or e-mail at email@example.com.