Yard cleaning a hassle in New Mexico

By Grant McGee: Local

Last weekend’s rains made the soil in the back yard of our house just right for pulling weeds. The Lady of the House does most of the weed pulling. She is merciless; if it doesn’t belong in her garden, it goes.

I have a soft spot in my heart for some weeds. After all they’re living things and they’re the first to green-up a bare spot.

But there’s one weed that I yank up on sight: goatheads.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had an encounter with goatheads. These are incredibly strong spiky seeds of a ferny-looking weed. Pick one up and look at it. Maybe you too will say what I did when I looked at one for the first time: “It DOES look like a goat head.” Arms manufacturers should consider goathead “horns” as tips for armor-piercing bullets. Those spikes are a threat to bare feet and bicycle tires across the American Southwest.

You know those legends and myths that are told about various plants and animals around the world? There must be a story about goatheads; it might go something like this:

When The Lord had finished making the universe, the world and nearly everything else, he was kicking back when ol’ Satan popped up. “Pretty good,” says the devil, “but watch this.” POOF! There was the goathead. The Lord had a good laugh and the devil went away. But he left his goatheads.

Before coming to New Mexico the only seed I had known that stuck to you was the sandspur, a danger to socks and pants. My first encounter with a goathead wasn’t long after I arrived in the Land of Enchantment. I was trying to figure out how my bicycle tire went flat. I turned the wheel and found this wicked looking thing in the rubber.

The United States Department of Agriculture has another name for goatheads, the very descriptive “puncture vine.” This thing isn’t even native to the western hemisphere, it’s an Old World plant. No doubt the seeds hitched rides on varied things that made it over here to the New World. Goatheads are listed as noxious weeds in 45 states. They’re even in Hawaii.

The goathead has other names too: bullhead, Texas sandbur, Mexican sandbur and “caltrop.” “Why caltrop?” you may ask. Caltrops are a military weapon invented in the days of the Roman empire. They’re so effective they are still used in the 21st century. Caltrops are spiky iron things that come in all sizes, designed so that no matter how you toss them a spike is sticking straight up. Originally they were used to stop the advance of armies whether they were on foot, on horseback or even on elephants. Forget caltrops. I think an elephant could be stopped by a mess of goatheads spread across a road.

So I’ll continue to reach down and pluck the little ferny leafed guys popping up in the yard. It’s a shame … they start out so pretty and with such nice flowers too. But that’s the way of a lot of things in life.

I look forward to the summer when I can walk barefoot in my back yard without fear of goatheads. I think that may be about the same summer I plan on water skiing on the North Pole after global warming has melted all the ice.

Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: