Q&AZ: Stinknet is everywhere in Arizona. Where did it come from?

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Monday, April 8, 2024 - 1:06pm
Updated: Monday, April 8, 2024 - 1:18pm

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Yellow flowers on a plant
Chelsey Heath/KJZZ
Stinknet, a noxious weed, in the West Valley on Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

Drive around the Phoenix area  — or just about anywhere in the state right now — and you’ll see tiny, yellow, globe-like flowers popping up just about anywhere.

While, they might look like pretty wildflowers, they are not. They are stinknet. 

It’s a name you might have heard in the last few years, as the spread of this invasive species has gained attention in Arizona. But, unlike a few years ago when we first talked about them on The Show, they are just about everywhere now — roadsides, backyards, in between the cracks on the sidewalk, and even along trails and on mountainsides. 

Through KJZZ’s Q&AZ reporting project, a listener asked: Where did stinknet come from and why are they so hard to eradicate?

Stephen Fuchs, plant collections manager with the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Pinal County, spoke about the answers and why the plant has him worried on The Show.

Interview highlights

FUCHS: You know, a lot of people have probably seen stinknet. You know, whether they've recognized that it was stinknet. You know, you'll see pretty little yellow globes shaped flowers growing around the Valley. A lot of times they'll grow out in open fields. They're really tenacious, though. You'll see them growing in cracks and concrete along the roadway just about anywhere you can find it right now.

It really does seem to be everywhere. Why this is a problem? What's so bad about stinknet?

FUCHS: So stinknet is really good at taking advantage of Arizona's wet seasons. Whenever [we have] really good, you know, spring rain, even winter rain, they grow incredibly fast and they can shade out and outcompete a lot of our native wildflowers and perennials. So, the biggest concern is that they will take over an entire area and displace a lot of our beautiful, you know, wildflowers.

What about fire risk?

FUCHS: Yes. You know, the fire risk is really my main concern. Once the, the heat hits, usually the end of May early June, it'll dry out and it is really good at catching on fire and it burns very hot. So it is the perfect fuel for really intense wildfires, especially out in rural or natural areas.

Are there also concerns about allergies?

FUCHS: Exactly. There are several people who are allergic to it by touch. So, you know, if you're out there handling it, trying to pull it, you wanna make sure you're wearing gloves, long sleeves. For some people, it doesn't seem to affect them for other people. You can get rashes.

For me personally, I am very allergic to the pollen. So out there, you know, the first time I ran into it was about 2012. I was trying to use a line trimmer or weed eater on it and it made me sick. So definitely be careful out there. You know, wear a painter's mask or some kind of, you know, respiration protection. And if you're going to be handling it with your hands, make sure to wear gloves and long sleeves.

So how did this get here, and how did it get everywhere here? It seems to have spread very quickly. Where did it come from?

FUCHS: So naturally it, it grows in South Africa. It did come over to California sometime in the 1980s. We don't know exactly what year it showed up. But people started seeing it mid-, late 1980s and started seeing it here in Arizona about early 1990s. Since then, it really has exploded. You know, the first couple of years, you know, there was just a patch or two somewhere. Nobody really noticed it. But, you know, now it's 2024 and it really has taken over.

If you see it in your yard, what should you do?

FUCHS: So, for now, if you see it definitely try to get rid of it. You know, if it's a small manageable population, you know, once you see those distinctive yellow blooms, try to remove it by hand. That's always gonna be the best way to do it. Even if it's already died, you know, if you have dried stinknet, you'd still want to remove it. It's a major fire hazard and it will spread seeds all throughout the summer.

But one of the problems we've had with stinknet is that in its kind of invasive spread. It spread so quickly and at the beginning, so quietly that we haven't really been able to sound the alarm until it's too late.

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