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The Pest of North Dakota


In Italy, it is known as Barba di Frate. In Japan, it's a crop of some importance, and is known as okahijiki. The leaves and shoots of the Salsola genus can be used in sushi or in salads. But, regardless of culinary taste, North Dakotans think of this large flowering plant as nothing more than a pest. The Russian Thistle, or tumbleweed, has been causing havoc in our state for over 100 years.

It was on this day in 1894 that the New York Times reported on a meeting of the House Agricultural Committee. The topic was Russian Thistle, and how to destroy it. Farmers across the Dakotas had found this weed taking over cropland. The weed could not be plowed through, and could not be burned. The only way to remove it was to pull it up.

Governor Shortridge of North Dakota addressed the House Committee, stating that three counties near the South Dakota border had already been abandoned. Russian thistle had taken over around 70,000 square miles, making farming impossible. However, despite pleas from Northern Plains Governors and farmers, the House Agricultural Committee took no action that day.

In December of 1894, The New York Times published yet another story regarding North Dakota's fight with Russian Thistle. State representative F. M. Kinter, a farmer himself, described the thistle take-over of croplands, claiming the weed could be removed from North Dakota "within two years" with the right plan. Kinter is quoted as saying, "It will no doubt require the appropriation of considerable money, but it seems to me that next to the support of our asylum and penitentiary, there is nothing else of so much importance to the interest of our State as the stamping out of the Russian thistle."

One hundred and sixteen years later, North Dakota farmers still fight with Russian Thistle. But thanks to farming technology and the advancement of pesticides, the noxious weed (as declared by the U. S. Department of Agriculture), is somewhat controllable.

Dakota Datebook written by Jill Whitcomb

Sources: thistle-

The New York Times Archives-Feb. 18, 1894-The Pest of the Two Dakotas-

The New York Times Archives- Dec. 10, 1894-The Pestiferous Russian Thistle-