I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.
— Abraham Lincoln
Tara thought she was posing for a high-school football photo.

Tara thought she was posing for a high-school football photo.

Nestled in a high desert valley that sits on the western edge of the Great Basin, with the imposing granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains looming to the west, lies Reno, Nevada. It calls itself "The Biggest Little City in the World," and is the second most populated city in the state. Arriving with the attitude of "when in Rome," we pulled into a casino parking lot and decided it would make a serviceable home for the night. With a 6:45 AM start time for our volunteering the next day, precious few minutes were left for gambling, but we grabbed a few dollars and gave it a shot.

We lost a few dollars.

Early the next morning, we joined several other volunteers, several of which work for Patagonia, which houses their Service Center in Reno. The group, assembled and under the direction of Friends of Nevada Wilderness, set off with shovels and pruning shears in hand on a two mile hike into the Mt. Rose Wilderness. The mission: to eradicate an invasive weed called musk thistle. An imposing yet beautiful plant, it bears purple flowers, stands 3 to 5 feet tall, and has leaves and stems that are sharp and thorny. Unfortunately, it's crowding out native plants, including our own native and equally cantankerous yet gorgeous cobweb thistle.

This wasn't our first time working with an organization to remove invasive species. This story repeats itself across the nation. Ask southerners about Kudzu. Ask easterners about Japanese honeysuckle. Ask anyone about English ivy. Because of varying amounts of ignorance and hubris, we've brought plants from all around the world to our continent. These plants often don't have anything to naturally keep them in check, so they spread unabated, ruining landscapes and wilderness in the process.

It's our mistake as humans, and so it's our responsibility to do something about it.

Unleashing the fury on invasive musk thistle.

Unleashing the fury on invasive musk thistle.

This year alone, the Friends of Nevada Wilderness and their volunteers have removed tens of thousands of musk thistle plants from the Mt. Rose Wilderness. It's a never ending job, as the plants continue to propagate every year. But it's important work, and work that is made surprisingly enjoyable by this dedicated organization.

After a morning spent fighting with these disagreeable plants, I was dusty, a little bloody, and surprised by how quickly the time had passed. After a short break and snack, we grabbed our tools and hiked back just before the afternoon sun made being outside uncomfortable.

Fortunate to have arrived for the final thistle battle of the season, we were treated to a thank you party that evening, held at the Friends of Nevada Wilderness office and warehouse. Free pizza, wings, and beer are impossible to say no to. Following the party and the realization that the beer had not been entirely consumed, some of the residents of The Biggest Little City in the World invited us over to their home to hang out and enjoy the cool desert evening.

As the sun set and we shared stories of travel, of gardening, and of impossibly good hair (Chris, one of the Friends of Nevada Wilderness employees, once had a facebook page dedicated to his coif), it was easy to understand why so many people are proud to call Reno home. And, why they are so dedicated to protecting the beauty and bounty of nature that surrounds them.


  • Don't plant any invasive plants around your house. North America is teeming with beautiful flora that belongs here. Find your favorites and plant them. If you use a landscaper, demand that they only plant native species.
  • Find an organization or agency that works to remove invasive and noxious weeds in your area, then ask about volunteering with them. Also, if you can, donate to them.
  • Educate yourself on what plants are a problem in your area (the organization you find using the previous step will be a great resource). Pull them from public places every time you go on a walk or hike.
  • Let your friends and family know if they have an invasive on their property. Don't be an insufferable and pretentious twit about it. Instead, politely point it out and then offer to help remove it and plant something native in its place.