Why do Some Plants Win


Well-Known Member
In response to a post of some thistle in Natives most excellent adventure of his native prairie thread , a question was raised and yet to be answered.
I ask and seek an answer, as to why thistle , of various types , will present itself in foodplots but is never seen in my managed fallow fields? Some of these fallow fields are of the poorest soils and location in my property. Some are good soils. Some receive mowing. Some have seen gly spraying. Some nothing but nature has controlled. But I do know I see and treat thistle in my plots but never ever in these fallow fields.
I’m sure many/ some of you observe the same.
What are your opinions of this phenomena?

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Where I've seen thistles pop up the most are places that have disturbance over the last couple of years. Pastures with heavy grazing seem to get them. Foodplots that have been mowed, disced, or heavily browsed are another. Even areas that just have some bare dirt get them. They seem to disappear after a few years if the soil is shaded.
As George said; pioneers that pop up when soil conditions are favorable for them, then fade away once the condition that encouraged them changes. I believe that there is a plant density (plants per square foot) or population that generally won't get exceded. In a successional environment the most adapted to that soil will populate it and leave little room for plants not quite perfect for that spot. That's why fallow ground doesn't have outbreaks... something else has already out competed it. That's also why disturbed soil does has outbreaks, the disruption opens a spot to fill. No proof of this, just how I observe nature.

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They pop up on undisturbed ground as well...

They sure do. In fact, that's where I am seeing them. My situation is opposite of dogghr's. I almost never see one in my plots. I'm seeing them in an established prairie. And, I'm not seeing the introduced species like Bull Thistle or Canadian Thistle - it is only the native Pasture Thistle, which is a biennial and not supposed to be very invasive like the others.

It's not like they are taking over, but I would say they are becoming more common in some areas. I've started spot spraying in the spring, so we will see how much impact that has over the next few years. But, since they bolt, flower and seed late in the year when I have quit working in the prairie, I expect that we will continue to have a few despite me killing some in the spring - unless dogghr has a magic potion to share with me....;)
I have 25 acres at the place I grew up. I can assure you that ground that has not been disturbed by grazing or any type of tillage will certainly provide what is required by Canadian thistle in order to thrive...it seems to take root in most anyplace that provides sunlight...my fallow areas have it and I spend a bit of time each year on its demise.
My experience is that they will grow anywhere that conditions are right, but I confess to not knowing what those conditions are.
I have about 16 ac of fields of which about 4 are food plots and the remainder allowed to fallow in various ways. Some areas I have sprayed, others mowed every few years, some I do nothing. All have had a good influx of native occurring plants. What I can be sure of, there has never been a thistle in any of the fields.
The lack of thistle, and some of the other nuisance plants prob occurs for several reasons mentioned so far. Of course all of my foodplots have seen some type of tillage in past years. Either plow, disc , or rototiller. No tillage for 5 + years. So that is one difference allowing invasive species.
And as Cat said, suppression of plants by a preponderance of others. Or in my case , better plants.
Since the fallow areas are allowed to do their own thing, growth is taller thus shading possible seed germination or plant growth.
Since no equipment is seldom in these fallow areas , there is no compaction by atv, tractor, truck , etc. Taproot weeds like compacted poor soils.
Naturally occurring growth keeps soil temps lower and retain moisture. Wind effects are also diminished which allow drying affect which again taproot weeds like.
The farm was once a cattle ranch. My cattle or sheep days are long gone. But I do know land management w/o the mob grazing and hoove trampling affect of cattle limits control of growth of invasive. That trampling ,whether from cattle or the natural Buffalo or elk herds , decreases our invasive plant presence I think.
These are just my theory of why I Never see thistle and certain other invasive in my fallow fields. Perhaps duplication of some of the fallow characteristics may simplify foodplot management.


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In my mind seeds are the most magical things on Earth. What comes from that little spec is amazing. But they have to perform in an environment favorable to their job. There are so many variables it's tough to know which ones are important.
It's a great question. I had to do some reading. The literature is a little inconclusive, but some things to consider - Thistle is a biennial. It will flower and produce seed only once in its 2-year lifetime. It doesn't produce a lot of seed compared to some weeds, and since it's bi-sexual, without a "mate" a lot of seed can be of no value. Johnsongrass spreads by seed and root (rhizomes). Thistle is a simple rosette that stays where it started.
Seeds seem not to persist in the soil like some. Five years in the top six inches is about it. While it could seem like a long time, compared to others it isn't. And the short persistence means things like flooding, drought, pH, and other soil characteristics can make thistle seed germination percentages quite low. But, when all the conditions are right, look out.
My experience is that they will grow anywhere that conditions are right, but I confess to not knowing what those conditions are.

So true. I’ve had near mono cultures of various weeds in the same plots or fallow fields going back decades. It all depends on the moisture, soil temperature, sunlight, minerals, ph, etc. get it just right for a particular plant and BAM!!!!
It’s just never what I plant......

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I have a lot more thistle in non cultivated areas than past or present cultivated areas. What little thistle I have in my plots is in the no till or minimum till
No different than animals - manage and coddle a game species and it still may not survey. Shoot and trap every hog or coyote on the place and they prosper
I think managing fields one much mimic mob grazing and its accompanying hooves trampling affect. Precolonial the East had large herds of bison. These animals rotated thru out the area just as seen with current western buffalo herds. In addition there were also elk which are also grazers, having similar but less affect on grassland openings. After settlers arrived, the same began only with typical cattle affect.
I don't think field management is successful/ suppression of invasive, unless they are managed accordingly. Not saying native species such as prairie thistle won't exist, but the invasive stuff like Canadian thistle is suppressed or eliminated in those fields. To sit back and allow a field to do its own thing after centuries of man made changes will not allow native growth to occur intensely . So its either cattle, or buffalo, or reproducing their affect.