Musk thistles are anything but beautiful to noxious weed control officers.
To the unenlightened, the bright pink powder-puff flowers of the musk thistle add a dash of color to a pasture or meadow.
But to Jeff Jerome, Douglas County's noxious weed supervisor, the musk thistle is a scourge upon the Earth. That's because the thistle's rosette base and its sturdy roots compete for sunlight, oxygen and minerals with range grass, hay and crops.
Already this year Jerome said he's sent about 100 letters to property owners telling them that they're legally responsible for controlling the weeds and making sure they don't go to seed. That's the first step Jerome takes to compel compliance with the law.
Jerome said he has forwarded two misdemeanor complaints to the Douglas County district attorney's office and is preparing two more. If convicted, property owners may be fined $100 a day for every day of noncompliance up to 15 days.
In addition, if county personnel have to spray the weeds, the cost will be assessed back to the landowner and may become a lien against the property.
``A lot of people fail to inspect their property, then they're just shocked when they get a form letter from us,'' Jerome said.
By now, most uncontrolled musk thistle has already formed flower heads and is visible from a distance.
``Most times, if somebody gets a letter from us, they've waited too long,'' he said. ``If it gets to the stage where we can see it, it's almost too late.''
One mature musk thistle plant releases about 5,000 seeds, 80 percent of which can be expected to germinate over the next 30 years. The seeds, which can easily scatter for 10 miles, can survive the digestive tracts of horses, birds and cattle.
For that reason, Jerome has the authority to prevent a noncomplying farmer from selling hay to another property owner.
Jerome said he's heard a variety of excuses why land owners aren't able to control musk thistle but that the law requires him to turn a deaf ear.
``Their personal problems aren't going to stop that weed from growing and infesting their neighbor's property,'' he said.
Douglas County enforces control of five weeds that have been declared noxious by the state. In addition to musk thistle, those weeds are: field bindweed, Johnson grass, Canada thistle and serica lespedeza.
Landowners may control musk thistle and comply with the law by hand cutting, digging or mowing the plants. Any seed heads should be buried in a container or burned.
The county department of public works also sells chemicals at a discount off wholesale prices. For more information, contact Jerome's office at 841-8823.