ENVIRONMENT

Invasive tamarisk tree sprouting more roots along Virgin, Colorado rivers

May 23, 2024, 7:00 PM

FILE: A boat speeds past the Tamarisk on the Colorado River. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)...

FILE: A boat speeds past the Tamarisk on the Colorado River. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The invasive tamarisk tree continues to take root along the Virgin River and throughout the Colorado River Basin.

Program administrator at Virgin River Program, Steve Meismer said tamarisk tree branches do not bend easily and can be dangerous when waters run high.

“If you have tamarisk in the stream, it will almost serve as a picket fence. It will catch all that debris and hold it up and force the water to go a different direction,” he said.

How and why the tamarisk tree got here

According to the National Park Service, the tree originated in the combined continents of Europe and Asia known as Eurasia.

It was first planted to control erosion along the banks of the Colorado River and became established by the 1920s.

The tamarisk, also called salt cedar, makes the soil salty, which impedes the growth of native plants.

Meismer said crews are uprooting tamarisks and revegetating the soil. However, removing the plant completely is difficult without the use of chemicals.

Tamarisk tree burns easily

The tamarisk is also an oily tree.

“It will burn when it’s green, burn very well when it’s green, and can produce huge, huge fires,” Meismer said. 

He added the tree can grow almost anywhere because its taproot can grow further from a water source than can native plants.

Removal can be difficult for other reasons, too. For example, in Arizona, the removal of mature trees is controversial, in part because they have become a favored nesting site for the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, according to the National Park Service.

Related: Spring runoff concerns in Salt Lake County

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Invasive tamarisk tree sprouting more roots along Virgin, Colorado rivers