Monday, January 10, 2011

The Caltrop

Back in November, when the spiders and the flies came out of hibernation, we faced something of a problem.  My dearest Canadian Mr Tabubil does not appreciate juvenile hunstman spiders dropping off the ceiling onto his head, or fully grown redback spiders nesting underneath the door handle.  Even the little jumping spiders that used the sofa cushions for springboards at night when he watched television were absolutely unacceptable. 
            So I called the town weed-and-pest disposal man to come and spray the outside walls of the house, and take care of the spiders for another season.  Mr Pest Control and his assistant walked through our house and into our backyard and without a word, dropped to their and knees and began yanking plants out of the verge.
            There's a mildly annoying flowering creeper that sprouts quickly and spreads even faster.  And our backyard is mostly full of it. We thought we were staying on top of it and not letting it get TOO high, but it didn't seem too troublesome and the yellow flowers were pretty - but Mr Pest Control, between grabbing fistfuls of the stuff, explained that it is actually a noxious invasive weed called CALTROP

Presenting Photo One: 
            Ye basic baby vine, two days old.

It looks sweet, but go do a Wikipedia search and pay close attention to the nasty medieval weapon it was named after.  The seeds can take out bicycle tires.  And feet.  And rubber shoes  - after Mr Pest Control led me out into the backyard for a tour of inspection I spent two hours pulling centimeter-long spines out of my flip-flops and went and bought a pair with leather soles.  He told me that a good Caltrop infestation can take years to clear up.  Looking around our yard, he said that at a conservative estimate, we'd be walking barefoot out here no earlier than two years from now.  If we weeded twice a week.  Every week.  All year round.
            What makes Caltrop so impressive is the speed with which it grows.  Mr Tabubil flew up to the Gold Coast on Christmas eve, after weeding that yard down to bedrock.  By the time we flew back just after the new year, the yard was just plain carpeted.  While our grass and climbing plants were dying in the heat, the caltrop vines were spreading out - each one twenty four and thirty six inches across.

Presenting Photos Two and Three: 
            Ye basic "Ooops, how'd I miss this one?  We're in trouble now!" Caltrop plant at 5 and 7 days old.

Note how the plant in photo three (taken in the vacant lot next door) is already flowering.  By the time the plant flowers it is already growing seeds (I have no idea how that works, biologically speaking.)
            The trick is to catch the plant before the seeds mature and fall off (2-3 days later) which means that if you've missed that first weeding session of the week, you can be playing catch up for months;  I have seen vines flower at three days of age - two inches across and sprouting seeds half an inch in size. These seeds are vicious -twisted, knobbly, tortuous lumpen things that blend into the soil and lie, always, with their spines pointing up. 
            Sprays (environmentally friendly sprays that dissolve into chemical inertness upon contact with water, I swear.) are wonderful, but they take 5-7 days to kill the plant dead, and in the meantime the thing is going right on flowering and seeding and contaminating your yard.
            Weeding is the only solid way to get at 'em.   On Mr Pest Control's advice I spent an afternoon in jeans and leather boots and work gloves  lifting plants away from the ground and dumping them whole into the rubbish bin, but  the entire exercise was accompanied by the soft pitter-patter of seeds falling away from the plant and melting into the dirt. 
            So here we are.  Weeding remorselessly, flailing away at the vacant lot next door, and doing our level best to make this yard habitable one day in the unimaginable future.

Prensenting Photo Four: 
            All hope lost, basically.  This patch in the vacant lit next door is knee deep.

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