Invasive cogongrass spreading, overtaking native species

SOUTHWEST MISSISSIPPI — The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists cogongrass in its assessment of the world’s worst weeds.

The Enterprise-Journal reports the weed has made its way into southwest Mississippi and is overtaking surrounding plant life worse than the more familiar kudzu.

Cogongrass came from southeast Asia and was introduced into Florida and southern Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia in the early 1900s.

“In some places, cogongrass grows very thick and dense. When you find a thick clump, you can drop a golf ball on it and the grass will hold it up,” said Walthall County Extension Service director Richard Hay.

Cogongrass was to be used for forage for cattle. However, cows would not eat it because the glass-like texture cut the cattle’s tongues.

“Cogongrass can’t be sold or transported because it is such an invasive species,” Hay said. “Where it grows in spots, we’re noticing nothing else grows in that spot.”

Hay said cogongrass has distinct characteristics. They include extended root systems, a midrib that is offset and white flowers in the spring.

“That makes it tough to control. When it flowers is when people usually know they have it,” Hay said. “You get flowers from April to May.”

Hay said the most common areas where cogongrass grows is in road medians, ditches, pine tree plantations and pastures and fields that have not been plowed.

“Once the seed hits bare dirt, it’s going to spread,” Hay said.

“People unknowingly clip cogongrass, and that is the worst thing they can do,” Hay said. “Burning it is not a good idea because burning doesn’t take out the root system. The tip sprouts back and puts out enzymes in the soil and nothing else will grow there.”

Hay said herbicides commonly used to combat cogongrass are Glyphosate and Arsenal AC. Glyphosate kills the top part, while Arsenal AC attacks the root system.

“If cogongrass is continually plowed, it will die,” Hay said. “The good news is there are some chemicals being worked on that will allow us to spray the top of the cogongrass and not kill other grasses like Bermuda and byhalia. If that can get on the market, we’ll be able to start battling this thing.”

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