- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

CAMILLA, Ga. (AP) — Cogon grass, a hardy weed that has overwhelmed forests in Africa and Asia, has taken root in the Southeast, where officials hope to stamp it out, or at least stop its invasive spread.

Producing seeds that can blow as far as 15 miles in the wind, cogon grass has the potential to be far more of a scourge than kudzu, a Japanese plant that has spread to 7 million acres in the southern United States, enveloping trees, road signs and houses.

Experts warn that, given enough time, cogon grass could turn the Southeast into a biological desert — a grassy savanna devoid of all native species.

“It’s a much more horrific invader than kudzu ever was,” said the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s Jim Miller, who has studied both plants and has seen cogon devastation firsthand in other parts of the world. “No other plant has transformed cultures and productions on more continents than cogon grass.”

Ranked among the world’s 10 most dangerous weeds, cogon grass has displaced African nomads and taken over clearings in Asian forests used for centuries to grow crops.

The weed slipped into the U.S. through the port at Mobile, Ala., as packing material in 1912. A native of Southeast Asia, it thrives in shade or sun, in poor or rich soil. Cogon grass has spread to every continent except Antarctica, occupying about 1.2 billion acres worldwide.

Nationally, cogon grass already has invaded natural areas, hunting preserves and roadsides in numerous southern states, including about 1 million acres in Florida.

Cogon grows up to 4 feet high in round patches that spread. It once was planted in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi for erosion control and forage. But few animals will eat its saw-toothed leaves containing silica crystals.

The weed crowds out native vegetation, depriving critical species such as the gopher tortoise and endangered red cockaded woodpecker of habitat, as well as game animals such as quail and deer.

It’s also a threat to the South’s multibillion-dollar forest industry. The weed kills pine seedlings, it’s expensive to control and it burns hotter than regular grasses during wildfires.

Cogon costs Alabama about $7.5 million a year in lost forest productivity, Mr. Miller said. With small patches of the weed now confirmed in parts of south Georgia, the state has declared war on the grass.

Representatives of the University of Georgia, the state Forestry Commission, the Agriculture Department and other state agencies are working with the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to heighten awareness and attack known infestations with herbicides. The federal agency is providing free herbicide spraying to landowners.

“Kudzu is probably the thing most people think about then they think of an invasive species because it’s so visible. But cogon grass is much more expensive to control; it’s more persistent, and it spreads more rapidly,” said David Moorhead, a University of Georgia forester.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide