In late September, Jarred Jones, his girlfriend and two daughters set out on their usual weekend bike ride.
On this particular venture, however, the group went to Prairie Spirit Trail State Park, which runs through Ottawa, where they encountered a prickly situation that flatted their fun.
Only a few minutes into their ride, the cyclists drove over a patch of goathead weed, also known as puncturevine, which deflated the tires of all the group’s members.
“There was over a hundred of these little buggers per tire,” Jones said, referring to the weed, which contains dozens of spherical-shaped pods with jagged thorns. “[The tires] went flat so fast.”
After lugging each of the bikes home, Jones researched the plant and learned about the notorious bit of nature wreaking havoc on bike tires. He also spent about $400 replacing his family’s regular bike tires with Kevlar-re-enforced tires, Jones said. The hassle and potential safety threat of the weeds led him to call the state in hopes of placing the plant on the noxious weed list, he said. Eventually, Jones spoke with Scott Marsh, Kansas Department of Agriculture’s weed specialist.
Marsh, who’s frequently has encountered the weed, said the plant is well-know for flattening bike tires, and can even puncture car tires.
“[Goathead weed] is a low-growing, spreading annual plant that will grow out from the roots up to about four or five feet,” Marsh said. “[The plant] produces a spiny seed pod that has five or so very sharp, hard spines on it that give it its name ‘puncturevine.’ It will rupture bike tires and even care tires and it can get through people’s shoe.”
Although he said he’s never heard of it injuring a person, Marsh said the plant could puncture through a thin-soled shoes. The plant tends to grow on sandy or gravelly sites — much like the surface of the Prairie Spirit Trail State Park — but also waste areas, roadsides, lawns and alleys, according to Kansas State University’s agricultural library on wildflowers and grasses. The plant also is difficult to eradicate, according to the university, as seeds can remain dormant in the soil for as many as five years.
Because the state has received only one complaint on the plant, Marsh said his department has no plans to take the issue to the state Legislature, where the plant could be placed on the noxious weed list. A noxious weed, Marsh said, is a plant that is regulated by state law, “meaning that land owners are required to control the weed when it’s on their property.”
Effective techniques in removing the weed, Marsh said, include using a shovel or hoe to uproot the plant, herbicides or a propane weed burner.
To address the plant’s potential effects at the local level, Marsh said residents can contact their county weed program.
“In Kansas it’s not a huge problem,” Marsh said. “But It’s definitely something to be concerned with locally.”