"The highest treason, the meanest treason, is to deny the holiness of this little blue planet on which we journey through the cold void of space." Edward Abbey
A Biological Threat To Wellness
Caroline at the start of the LoToJa race. At 200+ miles, LoToJa is the longest one-day USAC-sanctioned bicycle race in the country.
[Originally written for the Herald Journal, September, 2012.]
Bicycling is a great form of exercise. It has cardiovascular benefits and helps burn excess calories. Your bicycle also works as a form of transportation, getting you from here to there. You’ll save money by using your bike instead of your car to get to school, work, church, and play. And the money you save can then be used to buy delicious seasonal peaches and raspberries.
I had to repair three flat tires in the past three weeks. Argh! And during the recent LOTOJA bicycle event from Logan to Jackson Hole, more than a hundred cyclists suffered flat tires during the first leg of the race. That was a lot of spandex waiting by the side of the road for new tubes! (It was really fortunate that people weren’t hurt as a result.) In most cases, the cause was a demonical plant, the scourge of many cyclists as well as pedestrians, farmers, and ranchers. Puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris), also known as goathead, is a too common weed often growing in hot, dry conditions where other plants cannot thrive. This includes areas along roads and sidewalks as well as compacted trails; in other words, where people ride their bikes. And it only takes one spiny burr to really ruin your day.
You’ve probably passed a patch of puncturevine without even knowing it. It hugs the ground, with stems radiating out in all directions from a central long taproot. There are similar plants (puncturevine has small yellow flowers, with hairy leaves divided into four to eight pairs of leaflets), but puncturevine, as the name implies, has a unique feature. The seedpod gets very hard and breaks apart, with each burr sporting a very sharp “spike.” These spiky burrs lay in wait for bike tires and feet. They can penetrate most bicycle tires, and be a painful discovery for bare feet and thin soles.
This plant is considered an invasive weed from the Old World. It eventually arrived in the West as a hitchhiker, attached to forage or other property. And now, you find it along roads, in pastures, beside canals, and in parking lots. And I find it in my bicycle tires, all too often.
There’s something we can all do to make our roads safe from this spiky invader. First, learn to recognize this plant, and remove them from the landscape before they produce seeds. Two weeks ago, in Denver I walked by a front yard completely covered with puncturevine. I don’t know how the residents could stand it. I doubt they get many visitors on bicycles!
A patch of neighborhood puncturevine in Denver, CO, 2022.
Second, don’t be part of the problem. Just like the boaters who know they have to be vigilant to prevent the spread of invasive mussels in our lakes, we need to do our part to keep puncturevine at bay. After a hike, inspect the bottoms of your shoes. Check your dog’s fur for stowaway seeds. Carefully inspect your outdoor equipment. And if you find these seeds, don’t flip them into the lawn, or out of the car window. Dispose of them in the trash, so you don’t contribute to their spread. Bicycling is a wholesome form of exercise, and communities need to ensure that people are encouraged, not discouraged, from participating. Reducing the number of puncturevine seeds in the environment is good for all of us.
"Harvesting" puncturevine in Denver.
Caroline Shugart is a nurse, dietitian, personal trainer, and recreational cyclist. Robert Schmidt repairs Caroline's flat tires.
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