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A bouquet of weeds

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Kristin Downer (right) and Ann McGraw (left) pose with their award-winning noxious weed bouquets. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

Annual contest stresses importance of native vs. nonnative species

By Gabrielle Gasser and Mira Brody

BIG SKY – On the evening of July 20 at Crail Ranch, beautiful bouquets arrived for the second annual Noxious Weed Bouquet Contest. Although glamorous, Jennifer Mohler, executive director of the Gallatin Invasive Species Alliance, aims to use the event to educate the community about the importance of native species, dangers of invasive species and the repercussions even a single Oxeye daisy can have on the surrounding landscape.

“Oxeye daisy, which is in full bloom right now around Big Sky, it’s a very pretty flower,” Mohler said. “It was brought in as an ornamental, it escaped the garden and it can really dominate a landscape and cause detrimental impacts on the environment.”

The Noxious Weed Bouquets Contest began last year, an idea Mohler says had been brewing for a while. Her motivations for starting the event were threefold: to offer a bright light in the summer during the pandemic, to bring more people to the Crail Ranch native plant demonstration gardens and educate them about water wise landscaping and to host something fun and unique.

“It was just sort of a bummer of a year, and I thought ‘you know what, I’m just going to make this happen,’” Mohler said. “I knew like three people of my same kind of plant-crazy friends who I knew would do it, and [we] were blown away with the turnout. It turned out to be super fun, really creative.”

This year’s contest was a hit. Contestants came by at 5 p.m. to register and submit their bouquets and enjoy live music, refreshments and cornhole while judges cast their votes. Judges included Lorri Lagerbloom, board member of the Gallatin Invasive Species Alliance, Kristin Kern, owner of the Hungry Moose and Megan Beucking, education and outreach director at the Arts Council.

It’s a great way to make something beautiful and learn about plants, explains Mohler. Participants are instructed to gather invasive plants for their bouquets and are docked points if they use native wildflowers. In the adult division, first place went to Kristin Downer, who got a Hungry Moose gift basket, and second place went to Ann McGraw, who won a beautiful custom pottery vase with the Crail Garden logo. Zoe and Charlotte Zuckerman won first place in the youth division receiving a custom pottery vase as well as a yeti tumbler and a Crail Garden mug.

“… Some of our noxious weeds are beautiful,” said Mohler. “In fact, they were brought here as ornamental plants for our landscapes and soon revealed their invasive nature. Thus, the event’s goal is to educate folks about these ‘beautiful invaders’ and encourage people to actively manage them. Which can be as simple as pulling, enjoying them in a bouquet, and then bagging and disposing of properly to prevent seed spread.”

Mohler hopes that participants walk away with a deeper understanding of the plants that reside in the landscape they call home, and the role they play in Big Sky’s diverse ecosystem. They not only add color to our backdrop, but also pay a major role in the area’s water health, soil health and food chain, starting with native insects. In fact, Mohler says 90 percent of insects have developed specialized relationships with local native plants.

“If you build a landscape and use plants not native to Montana, our insects can’t use it,” Mohler said. “You’re creating a food desert. What feeds our birds? Native insects. So they really are critical for providing that base of the food web.”

Additionally, native plants need no soil amendments or fertilizers, making them low impact on the environment, stressing the importance of thoughtful landscaping.

Noxious weed bouquets are not limited to this annual event—the next time you’re out enjoying one of Big Sky’s numerous trails, keep an eye out for invasive species. After affirming they are invasive, clip them and arrange your own bouquet at home to do your part in removing them from the ecosystem, while still enjoying their beauty.

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