Managing Noxious Weeds

Noxious. This is a word that sounds like it is (called onomatopoeia). It sounds dreadful. Poisonous, maybe. One way or another – UGH!

Add the word “weeds” to that dreadful word, and it’s enough to make many of us run screaming into the night. And really, “Noxious Weeds” sounds like the title of a bad B-movie. Really bad movie. The worst…

Shattercane plants have erect stems that can reach four to eight feet tall. Seeds “shatter,” or drop easily at maturity, which allows the plant to spread easily.

Fortunately, there are calm and collected folks who are not scared at all and are well versed in noxious weeds. Like “Men In Black” with aliens, they are ready, willing, and able to help out the rest of us who might not even recognize that these alien invaders are a menace to our properties.

In Talbot County, there are eight species of weeds that are part of the State’s noxious weed list, including Palmeramaranth.

Joe Willoughby, Talbot County Weed Control Coordinator, is such a man (he doesn’t dress in black). In fact, his job is to go after these dreadful brutes, but you’ll remember him and his good work.

“We really focus on truly noxious weeds,” he says, noting that he spends the bulk of his time helping property owners control the county’s worst players, Johnsongrass, Shattercane, four types of Thistles, Palmer Amaranth and Waterhemp.

Joe Willoughby (left), Weed Control Coordinator for the Talbot County Roads Department, provides information to Talbot County Council Member Dave Stepp about a noxious weed he has found around the county.

These plants are all non-native plants (aliens to these shores!) that spread quickly and take over land that threatens agricultural crops, ecosystems, and wildlife habitats. They’re also listed as “Noxious Weeds” by the State of Maryland, and, yes, it’s prohibited to just ignore them.

Waterhemp is considered a noxious weed in Talbot County and property owners are responsible for managing it.

The Federal Noxious Weed Act of 1975 gives the Secretary of Agriculture authority to work with state and local agencies to inspect, seize, destroy, and/or quarantine land due to an infestation. Counties are charged with acting on behalf of the Secretary of Agriculture to enforce control of noxious weeds.

Property owners are responsible for managing – if possible, eradicating – these weeds on their property. Joe sometimes contacts property owners if he sees his notorious foes are spreading or otherwise impacting the viability of the property.

“I’ll come over and spray,” he remarks, “and tell the property owners how they can manage the plants in the future.”

Joe is willing to help anxious property owners with invasive plants (non-natives that quickly overtake others in the landscape) that aren’t on the county’s “Most Un-Wanted List,” such as Phragmites, which has a nasty habit of overtaking whole shorelines, destroying valuable habitat for waterfowl, crabs, and other native wildlife. Bamboo. Shudder! Joe can help. Porcelainberry… he’ll be happy to advise you on how to get rid of it, or at least keep it in check.

But he’s always on the lookout for those thistles and a grass with a white vein down its leaves (Johnson Grass).

Johnsongrass does not need seeds to spread. Underground “rhizomes” produce new sprouts, which can rob other grasses and plants of nutrients, leading to the rapid decline of other plants and accelerated spread of the noxious weed.

Want a “Man Not-in Black” to visit your property and help with alien invasions? Call Joe Willoughby at 410-770-8157 or email He’s here to help us. And you’ll remember him!

For more information, visit

Maureen Rice is a naturalist/gardener living in Talbot County. She is the author of “Not! Your Granny’s Garden.” Email to receive the blog straight to your inbox.

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