Above: Roak TenEyck talks to one of his customers about puncture vine weevils. TenEyck sells the little critters during the months of July through September.

By Karen Hutchinson-Talaski

Staff writer

UMATILLA — Roak TenEyck hates puncture vines.

TenEyck has repaired more bicycle tires and pulled more of those dreaded goatheads out of shoes and feet than he cares to remember. He thinks Umatilla County is the puncture vine capital of the world. So he decided to do something about the prickly nuisances.

Enter the puncture vine weevil.

I. R. V. Goatheads sells the tiny weevils from July 1 to September 30. Spread them on your puncture vines and eventually they eat their way through that ugly patch. It is not an overnight process, says TenEyck.

"They're working even when you're not," TenEyck said.

So how do the weevils work? TenEyck says the female deposits almost 324 eggs into unsuspecting puncture vine seeds. They chew into the side of the burr, deposit eggs and then seal it with fecal material.

"The grub eats his way through the center of the seed," TenEyck said. "It eats the viable portions of the seed."

It takes about 25 days to go from egg to adult. The immature weevil pupates inside the seed and emerges as an adult. Adult weevils may feed on the plant, but do not cause any real damage to it. The number of generations per year depends on the climate. Here in Umatilla County, puncture vine weevils overwinter if they are covered.

"The snow this winter was a good insulator," TenEyck said. "I found weevils in a field a couple of weeks ago."

Puncture vine weevils were introduced as a biological control in 1961 in Nevada and California. Other releases of the weevil were done in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Washington. By 1966, weevils in Texas were released and by the mid-70s, puncture vine was no longer a weed pest in west Texas.

"They didn't do to well in Amarillo, Texas," TenEyck said. "They think the winters were too cold. But here (in Umatilla), they have adapted."

How can a person tell if weevils are working? TenEyck says the seed deforms and becomes smaller, turning a purple hue.

"It sounds nasty, but the purple color comes from the fecal matter of the grub," TenEyck said.

Puncture vines have been around this area for a long time. TenEyck says puncture vine is a plant designed to thrive. It takes about 2 - 3 weeks from the time the seed sprouts until it blooms and starts to form seeds again. The plant continues to grow and produce seed until it is stopped, usually by pulling or burning.

The first freeze will usually kill the plant, however, seeds have the ability to remain dormant in the soil for four to five years. TenEyck says that each burr has five separate segments. Each segment has two to four seeds inside it, and each seed has different levels of dormancy.

"One portion of the seed might be gone," TenEyck said, "but there's still a couple more still to come into their prime."

That's what makes the puncture vine weevil so perfect for eradicating the vines. The weevils are host specific, which means they eat puncture vines and nothing else.

Besides the seed weevil, there are also stem weevils. Stem weevils work in the same way the other weevils work, except they attack the stems of the puncture vine.

But lest you think puncture vines aren't good for anything, listen to this; puncture vine has played an important role in Eastern European folk medicine for centuries. The ancient Greeks used it as a general physical tonic. The Chinese employ it as an immunological agent and as a component of therapy for diseases affecting the liver, genitourinary tract and cardiovascular system. In India, it is widely recommended in rejuvenation formulas, and as an anti-inflammatory agent.

There are plenty of websites on the Internet touting the wondrous effects of puncture vine. TenEyck has been taking one supplement called Triovin 250. It is said to enhance sexual, psychological and physical vitality. It comes in both a men's and women's formula.

"I have felt no ill effect from it," TenEyck says. "It seems to work for me."

Whether the puncture vine is friend or foe is a matter of interpretation. TenEyck's website has loads of information about puncture vines and weevils. For more information about purchasing puncture vine weevils or any other information regarding puncture vines, contact TenEyck at 541-922-4515 or visit his website at www.goatheads.com.

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