The good, the bad and the endangered: New Mexico’s thistles are more than just weeds

In a meadow near Silver Lake in the Sacramento Mountains, one can look out onto a small patch of habitat containing several species of plant and animal life  Although spring is too early to see many of the species of plant life, such as a few species of thistles which do not bloom until late […]

The good, the bad and the endangered: New Mexico’s thistles are more than just weeds

In a meadow near Silver Lake in the Sacramento Mountains, one can look out onto a small patch of habitat containing several species of plant and animal life 

Although spring is too early to see many of the species of plant life, such as a few species of thistles which do not bloom until late summer, other plant and animal species are already present, including the New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse, Sacramento Mountain Butterfly, the Mexican Spotted Owl along with invasive species like the Musk Thistle.

“It’s an island,” District Biologist for the Sacramento Ranger District Philip Hughes said, referring to the species of plants and animals that are endemic to the Sacramento Mountains. Endemic means these species live in a specific geographical area and do not grow naturally elsewhere.

Recently, the Wright’s marsh thistle was listed as threatened. This thistle is native to marshlands in New Mexico, such as those seen in the meadow near Silver Lake and in a preserve in Santa Rosa, Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Roswell and in the Rio Grande Valley.

There are 12 native species of thistles in New Mexico, state Botanist Erika Rowe told NM Political Report.

“We have some property in Santa Rosa… associated with the ciénega springs,” Rowe said. “There are these sort of natural seepage kind of meadows this kind of habitat (Wright’s Thistle) really prefers, they’re kind of alkaline seepage meadows that are very unique and kind of have a constant flow of water through the system.”

More: Flower found in marshes of southern New Mexico listed as threatened

The New Mexico Native Plant Society released a New Mexico Thistle Identification Guide in 2016 to help distinguish between native thistle species and non-native invasive noxious species such as the creeping thistle, bull thistle, Scotch thistle and the musk thistle.

“Creeping thistle is the most problematic and pernicious non-native thistle in New Mexico,” according to the guide. “Patches of stems from root sprouts can become huge and dense to the exclusion of native wetland vegetation. It is damaging to riparian and wetland ecosystems at springs, wet mountain meadows and the margins of ponds and creeks.”

The bull thistle is a 3-5 foot tall biennial mostly seen along roadsides in 4,500-9,800 feet elevations and can be controlled by hand digging.

The Scotch thistle is a large attractive plant native to Scotland that is not a welcome plant in New Mexico. The national emblem of Scotland, it came to New Mexico sometime in the 1980s and can be found in “disturbed soils in riparian areas and through grasslands, piñon-juniper woodlands, ponderosa pine forests (and) 4,000-7,600 feet elevation,” the guide states. It can be identified by its gray filamented stems and spiny wing-like leaves going down the stems and purple flowers.

Then there is the musk thistle with its large purple flower that grows in large amounts on disturbed soils such as roadsides, urban development, fallow farm fields and grazed mountain pastures, the guide states. Every once in a while, musk thistles grow naturally in undisturbed habitats.

In an effort to control musk thistle growth, the seedhead weevil was introduced to New Mexico but has, so far not been effective in higher elevations due to the thistle’s late bloom and has been attacking some native thistles, according to the guide.

The musk thistle looks strikingly similar to the endangered Sacramento Mountains Thistle.

Aside from the invasive thistle species, there are two endangered species of thistle including the Sacramento Mountains Thistle which is only known to grow in the Sacramentos and the recently listed threatened Wright’s Thistle.

The guide says the Sacramento Mountains Thistle is one of the native thistles the seedhead weevil has been destroying. Similar to the musk thistle, it has a purple flower but is not as prolific as the musk thistle. The Sacramento Mountains Thistle is threatened due to insect predators, grazing and aquifer depletion.

Wright’s Thistle has a white or light purplish-pink flower with semi-succulent or leathery leaves, the guide states.

Other species of thistle that grow naturally in New Mexico and are not endangered include the Arizona Thistle which is native to the western half of New Mexico and can be found in rocky slopes and canyons in higher elevations; the Alpine Thistle which is endemic to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico; Graham’s Thistle which is very rare and has only been found in southern Catron County and New Mexico Thistle which flowers in late spring instead of late summer as most thistles do and can be found in most of New Mexico.

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List, a nonprofit that supports women candidates and reproductive rights, endorsed seven incumbents facing general election opponents in New Mexico legislative elections. All…
Equality New Mexico endorses 15 legislative candidates

Equality New Mexico endorses 15 legislative candidates

A New Mexico-based LGBTQ rights organization endorsed 15 candidates for state House and Senate seats for the 2024 elections.  Marshall Martinez, executive director of…
Lujan Grisham pocket vetoes two bills

Lujan Grisham pocket vetoes two bills

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pocket vetoed two bills the legislature passed this legislative session: one changing the Cybersecurity Act and the other concerning law…
Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a final renewable energy rule Thursday that is expected to pave the way for increased wind, solar…
Heinrich co-sponsors legislation to address PFAS in private wells

Heinrich co-sponsors legislation to address PFAS in private wells

About 13 percent of New Mexico’s population relies solely on private wells for drinking water and this removes a level of health security. For…
EPA announces new drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals

EPA announces new drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced drinking water standards on Wednesday that are intended to protect Americans from contamination from PFAS chemicals. This is…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

While the U.S. Supreme Court considers the future of access to the abortion medication, mifepristone, another lawsuit against the FDA that would expand access…
Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Sen. Martin Heinrih and other Senate colleagues introduced abortion rights legislation into the U.S. Senate on Thursday. The Abortion Care Capacity Enhancement and Support…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

While the U.S. Supreme Court considers the future of access to the abortion medication, mifepristone, another lawsuit against the FDA that would expand access…
Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Sen. Martin Heinrih and other Senate colleagues introduced abortion rights legislation into the U.S. Senate on Thursday. The Abortion Care Capacity Enhancement and Support…
Politics Newsletter: Early and absentee voting

Politics Newsletter: Early and absentee voting

Good morning fellow political junkies! Early and absentee voting for the June 4 New Mexico primary begins in about a month. The nonprofit election…
San Juan County, Navajo Nation settle redistricting case

San Juan County, Navajo Nation settle redistricting case

The Navajo Nation and San Juan County reached an agreement Monday about commission districts after the tribe alleged that its members were not adequately…
MIT ranks NM elections most well-run in the U.S.

MIT ranks NM elections most well-run in the U.S.

New Mexico’s 2022 election was ranked most well-run in the country by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Election Data and Science Lab’s Elections Performance Index.…
What the low unemployment rates for months means for NM’s economy

What the low unemployment rates for months means for NM’s economy

Post-pandemic, New Mexico has had an extended run of low unemployment rates. New Mexico’s unemployment rate has remained stable at 4.0 percent since October…
Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a final renewable energy rule Thursday that is expected to pave the way for increased wind, solar…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report