Yellow tuft alyssum, a plant native to Europe, produces clusters of attractive yellow flowers. Leaves are covered with fine white hairs that give the plant a grayish green appearance. They thrive in well-drained rocky soils and are commonly cultivated in rock gardens.
But as attractive as the plant may be, it has been declared a noxious weed in the state of Oregon and has become a serious threat to the environment. The fast growing and invasivee yellow tuft alyssum will crowd out other native flowers. One mature plant can produce hundreds of seeds, which are easily dispersed and sprout quickly. As such, rare and endangered native wildflowers in the area are in jeopardy.
The yellow tuft alyssum came to Oregon over 15 years ago as an experimental crop with the potential to revolutionize the mining industry. It was grown specifically for its ability to absorb nickel from the soil and concentrate the metal in its leaves. And more importantly, once processed, the nickel can be extracted. In fact, several hundred pounds of nickel, per acre could be collected each year.
They key to the process is to cut the plant before it flowers or the nickel will be lost once the leaves start to fall. But the issue with that is that cutting the plant before it blooms will risk seeds escaping in the wild.
In 2002, the private company that funded the original research planted 9 acres of the yellow tuft alyssum on their own. And it didn’t take long before the alyssum seeds started to spread outside the fields. The plant started turning up on the highway, river gravels and through the valley.
Getting rid of the noxious weeds have proven to be a difficult and challenging effort. Fields have been treated with herbicides, but the plant is still sprouting.
News sources: nwpr.org,