Skagway’s tribal government trades butter and eggs to fight invasive plant species

Yellow toadflax in Skagway. (Photo by Mike Swasey/KHNS)

Skagway’s tribal government is working to control the spread of invasive plant species around town. Their latest project involves members of the community pulling the butter-and-eggs plant, then bringing those plants into their office and walking away with actual butter and real eggs.

Yellow toadflax, commonly called butter-and-eggs, gets its nickname from the coloration of the flowers, a bright butter-colored petal with a darker yolk-like center. The plant was originally brought to the U.S. as an ornamental perennial but has also been used to make yellow dye and it’s been used in folk medicine as a laxative, diuretic, and as a treatment for dropsy.

So, yes, it’s lovely. And yes, it’s useful. But it is also very good at taking over ecosystems and drowning out native plant species. Reuben Cash is leading the fight against the spread of invasive plants in Skagway, he’s the environmental coordinator for the Skagway Traditional Council.

“It’s really hard to control once it’s been established. Because, you know, not only does it spread through its seed, but it also has those creeping rhizomes,” Cash said.

Creeping rhizomes are vine-like roots that spread out underground up to 10 feet from each plant. So when you see a patch of Yellow Toadflax, you’re actually seeing a bunch of plants sprouting from the same root system.

“So it’s all considered one plant. So that’s how you can get 30,000 plus seeds out of a single plant is because it has all of these daughter plants that are all connected to it,” Cash said.

The butter-and-eggs plant thrives on distressed soil and windy places. Skagway has plenty of both. The seeds look like little replicas of Saturn and are both lightweight and oily. Their light weight allows them to float through the wind, their oily covering allows them to float on the water, so rivers transport them just as well as the south wind.

They also tend to like snowy areas.

“Because those stocks stay erect after everything senesces dies off in the wintertime. And those pods open up and then the snow will fall. And they’re really effective at skittering across the surface of the snow. that’s a really efficient way for them to distribute themselves around,” said Cash.

This is the first year of the battle against Yellow Toadflax in Skagway and the STC is hoping to stop the spread more than eradicate the plant because it’s already gained so much ground. As an incentive in the battle this year they are offering a bounty. The STC will give away a pound of butter and a dozen eggs for every four pounds of the plant that’s brought in.

“We figure for a single person, you know, 15 to 30 minutes to be able to get four pounds of it,” Cash said.

According to Cash, it’s important to get as much plant out of the ground as possible, but you won’t be able to get the entire underground vine.

“Grab it at the base and try and, you know, work it out so that you’re working out some of that underground biomass,” Cash said.

In the future, Cash says he hopes to have drone footage of the entire region that can pinpoint areas of spread. They will likely target those areas by planting native grasses that have shown some success choking out the resources that the Yellow Toadflax relies on.

Store your plants in plastic trash bags so the seeds don’t accidentally escape. Then, bring those bags to the STC environmental lab, which is the blue building with the white garage door just east of the main building on 11th Avenue and Broadway Street in Skagway. Drop off dates are Wednesday, Sept. 1 and Friday, Sept. 3 to collect your bounty.

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