A New Weapon in the War on Weeds: Flamethrowers

A New Weapon in the War on Weeds: Flamethrowers

Long used in agriculture, land managers are now wondering whether cooking weeds to death is better than pesticides


Meghan Fellows sprays flame on a patch of lesser celandine, an invasive weed, while volunteer Jim Anderson looks on. If “flaming” the plants (heating them up but not burning them) kills them reliably, the technique may replace pesticides in vulnerable stream environments. (Courtesy Meghan Fellows)

By Alison Gillespie


Meghan Fellows wants people to know that she isn’t a pyromaniac. Yes, she’s walking around in urban parks with a propane tank roughly the size of a beer keg strapped to her back and a four-foot flame-throwing wand in her gloved hands. But the biologist is out here shooting 400,000 BTUs at weeds to find out if she can cook them to death instead of spraying them with harsh chemicals or pulling them out by hand.

Fellows, who works for the parks system in Montgomery County, Maryland, is one of many charged with the control of weeds in urban parks, and today she’s focusing her attention on a small but aggressive invader called lesser celandine. The plant was first identified as a problem in the early 1990s because it crowds out native wildflowers that provide nectar for bees and food for wildlife. Experts have tried almost everything to eradicate the aggressive but pretty, buttercup-like Eurasian flower from U.S. stream banks and hillsides, lawns and ball fields. Read more.