Dalmatian toadflax is adapted for survival and for spreading. Rapid and extreme temperature changes don’t bother it, and one plant can produce 500,000 seeds that can float on water and remain viable in the soil for 10 years. In addition to reseeding so well, it also sends up plants from its roots which can extend 4 to 10 feet below ground and as much as 10 feet laterally. Because of this extensive root system, hand pulling, mowing and burning have little effect on a stand’s survival. Herbicide must be applied at high rates potentially damaging native or preferred forbs.
So what’s a land manager to do? Graze it!
Though it doesn’t hold its nutritional value as long as some other forbs/weeds, it is still a good value for animals eating it. I trained cows to eat this plant in 2008 in Boulder County, Colorado and they have been eating it in pasture ever since. I also worked with folks in Roundup, Montana to teach their cows to eat it. Once cattle had learned to graze the plant they were released into a very large pasture. Observers found that in spite of the size of the pasture and the spread of the plant, most plants had been grazed to some degree after the first year. This is the same experience I’ve had with the Boulder County cattle. Every year they’re in the same 500 acre pasture for about 2 weeks and after they leave I tour the pasture to see what they’ve accomplished. For the past 3 years, I’ve been unable to find a single ungrazed toadflax in the pasture.
You might be surprised to find that, contrary to some information provided on the internet, Dalmatian toadflax is not toxic to livestock. As always, before deciding to train animals, I did thorough research on this plant. In this case, Dalmatian toadflax does not appear as a toxic plant in the most respected texts in this area.
Both Dalmatian and yellow toadflax contain quinazolene alkaloids, vasicine, vasicinone and deoxyvasicinone, as well as some flavinoid glycosides. Vasicine can cause bronchodilation (expansion of the airways) which is probably why Native Americans burned it in sweat lodges. But otherwise no problems have been shown for animals eating it.
Managing Dalmatian Toadflax in Pasture
As with all forages, timing of grazing of Dalmatian toadflax is important. Animals will graze it more readily in rosette and bolting stages when it is more nutritious. I would expect to notice the amount your cattle eat drop off as the plant matures into seedset. However, my trainees in Boulder County, Colorado have shown a willingness to eat it even when it’s in bloom. This past summer my Boulder County, Colorado trainees grazed a lot of Dalmatian toadflax, moving from plant to plant just as they would when grazing grass. Sometimes they ate entire stems, others they grazed the tops and leaves off of stems as in the picture shown here.
A researcher from Canada described a project he was working on to see if cattle grazing could control toadflax. He grazed plots heavily over the course of several years and found that he was able to get rid of most of the toadflax. Since many of us don’t have the resources to graze this intensively, our results will probably not be as good. But grazing should prevent stands from increasing in size.
Lemons from Lemonade
Those weed managers who find Dalmatian Toadflax to be a pain in the rear, might like to know that herbalists recommend a poultice of the whole plant or just the flowers for treatment of hemorrhoids. Others say it can be boiled in milk to make fly poison and that in Sweden it is an old custom to infuse milk with toadflax and then place it where flies are bothering them. The flowers were also used in Germany to create a yellow dye.