Marie Versus the Cockleburs

An ant receiving honeydew from an aphid. Image credit: Wikipedia.

An ant receiving honeydew from an aphid. Image credit: Wikipedia.

I’ve been in a fifteen-year war against cockleburs and deadly nightshade in my back yard. After my latest experience today, I fear the weeds are winning.

At least once or twice each summer, I take to the terraced land in my back yard to rid it of the worst weeds. The area isn’t mowable, so I’ve just let it grow. It’s held together by rotting railroad ties that I intend to replace with brick walls someday when my ship comes in. My ship is far out to sea yet, so I just do what I can to control the weeds.

I can live with tansy, but because young children live in the neighborhood, I pay particular attention to the nightshade, which grows bright red poisonous berries alluring to small children. And because my dog Buddy has hair that attracts burs with an unnatural magnetism, I hack the heck out of the cockleburs. Being averse to herbicides, I do the work by hand — except for one summer when I was lazy and wanted to see if chemicals were more effective. They weren’t.

Last summer, something halted my rampage against one cocklebur plant. I was just about to cut the five-foot tall stem when I noticed black ants and green aphids all over it. I was transported back to fourth grade when my class watched a black-and-white science movie about how ants farm aphids on certain plants.

Here was an ant-aphid farming operation going on in my back yard! How could I destroy it? Yes, I know that aphids are also considered pests. But the ants milk the aphids and live off their nectar (also called honeydew). How could I obliterate such ingenuity? Such industriousness? I couldn’t. I let the plant stand, intending to chop it down in late fall once the ants went into hibernation or whatever ants do.

But I didn’t chop it down. I forgot about it, until I saw the plant today, standing tall and prickly in my back yard, burs just itching to reach Buddy. Guilt-free now that no ant farms were involved, I chopped it down, plus the remnants of a few neighboring plants that I missed last year. I disposed of them in my yard waste container and went into my house, feeling satisfied at a job well done. I had completed my war on noxious weeds and was ready for another round with the coming summer.

Any feelings of victory were short-lived, however. As I sat down to take off my shoes, something prickly and round was lodged under my butt. You guessed it, the cockleburs had the last say.

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