Crumb Trail
     an impermanent travelogue
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Saturday, January 14, 2006

. . . them Uzbek Kochia (pronounced KO-chuh).

K. prostrata is native to central Eurasian countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, where Waldron has journeyed on plant-collecting expeditions. He has brought back hundreds of superior specimens from these treks and is now testing them in greenhouse and outdoor experiments. . .

K. prostrata is a distant relative of an annual weed, K. scoparia, that can be poisonous to cattle and sheep. This annual kochia is popular with home gardeners who know it as “firebush” because of its red fall foliage. Fortunately, the annual weed and the promising perennial can’t interbreed, according to ARS plant geneticist Richard R.-C. Wang at Logan.

Understandably, forage kochia is sometimes confused with the garden ornamental. “This mix-up sometimes makes it hard to convince people that forage kochia is really a good-guy plant,” says Waldron.

But a good guy it certainly is. Forage kochia tolerates drought, flourishes on salty or alkaline soils that make life hard for many other plants, and survives with as little as 5 inches of rain or other precipitation a year. It also offers shelter and tasty seeds for upland songbirds and game birds such as sage grouse; helps control erosion; serves as a greenstrip or firebreak in fire-prone ecosystems; and seems to thrive on poor-quality sites that have been damaged by overgrazing, wildfire, or off-road vehicles. . .

“From these observations, we determined that forage kochia does not crowd out native perennials,” Waldron notes. “It thrives in elevations from 1,600 to 7,000 feet and can actually grow better on inhospitable sites, such as dry areas with gravelly soils, than many other rangeland plants.”

I suppose it makes sense that plants from the "stans" might fit well in the American west. It's interesting that this cross fertilization - so to speak - is happening now. I suppose it would have been awkward in the soviet days.

posted by back40 | 1/14/2006 10:43:00 PM


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