What’s Going On: Goats vs. the multiflora rose

If you take a drive out to Flandrau State Park in the next couple weeks, you might get to see something unusual.

No, it’s not green grass or ground absent of snowbanks, although that is something we have sorely missed for what seems like too long.

More unique than that though is what you might see wandering on that snow-barren ground eating whatever may be sprouting at the time: four dozen or so goats, accompanied by a guard donkey or llama, depending on whose shift it may be.

That’s right, goats. In an attempt to battle the invasive weeds that overtake the hills of Flandrau, park officials are employing the four-legged-eating-machines to do their thing and eat the unwanted plants.

The goal is to restore part of the park to its original prairie appearance and the goats are going to help park officials do just that.

When I first read the headline indicating the goats were coming, I was initially concerned for one reason: The multiflora rose.

The multiflora rose is a beautiful rose plant native to Japan that can grow up to 15 feet tall. Unlike its common cousin with red flowers, its blooms are white with a cluster of yellow stamens in the middle.

The multiflora rose became a part of America back in the 1930s in the midst of the Great Depression which was partly created by a collapsed farm economy. Decades of abusing the land had finally caught up to us, and previously fertile land turned barren, resulting in more dust than crops.

As a result, the soil conservation service was born and several viable and instrumental practices were introduced as a result, such as rotating crops, terracing and tiling the land.

Erosion control also became a major priority and one of the more aggressive measures officials took was to introduce non-native plant species to the environment that would spread quickly and prevent barren soil from literally blowing away.

Introduce the multiflora rose, which not only grew quickly, it was a hearty plant species … growing well into winter and as such, it provided a food source for deer and songbirds while also offering shelter for pheasant, bobwhite and rabbits.

Plus, it was pretty to look at for the few months it flowered.

But surprise, surprise, there was a problem. The multiflora rose turned out to be too aggressive and pretty soon, this non-native plant started taking over habitats previously home to native species. It was spreading everywhere, overtaking pastures and woodlands, marshes and wetlands. Today, 80 years after it was first introduced, it’s found in more than 40 states and is classified as a noxious weed or just outright banned in 13, including Minnesota.

Introducing a non-native species (plant or animal), or even one that has been removed from an environment for a long time can be tricky. There are failures, like the kudzu plant, and success stories, such as the pheasant population here in southwest Minnesota. And then there are those that the jury is still out on, such as the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone.

As for the multiflora rose, ironically, one of the most successful way to control it naturally is through the use of goats, which again eat anything.

Flandrau’s goats have been cordoned off to a 22-acre section of land ripe with troublesome plants like common buckthorn, garlic mustard and dame’s rocket, a colorful, light purple, Eurasian perennial, herbaceous plant in the mustard family. Plus, they won’t be a permanent resident as in a month they will be herded back on to a trailer returned to their “natural” home.

And hopefully, what they leave behind will be a hillside free of buckthorns, dame’s rockets and of course, multiflora rose.

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Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at gorear@nujournal.com.

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