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Counties battle invasion of non-native cogongrass
MISSISSIPPI STATE – State officials are asking for the public’s help in stopping the spread of cogongrass, one of the world’s worst weeds, which has invaded 62 of Mississippi’s 82 counties.
The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce-Bureau of Plant Industry is asking anyone who spots this invasive grass to report the sighting by calling (662) 325-3390. The problem is severe enough that a Mississippi Forestry Commission assistance program is available in 19 counties to help landowners get rid of the weed.
According to the Mississippi Forestry Commission, cogongrass came from Southeast Asia and was introduced to the United States in 1911 near Mobile, Ala. It arrived in Mississippi before 1920 as a forage crop but later was found to be unsuitable as forage. It spreads rapidly and displaces desirable vegetation.
“Cogongrass affects pine productivity and survival, wildlife habitat, recreation, native plants, fire behaviors, site management costs and more,” the Forestry Commission states on its website.
Cogongrass looks very similar to many other kinds of grasses, but can be identified by its circular growth pattern and unique rhizome, or root, structure. A useful identification guide created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forestry Service and the University of Georgia is online at http://www.cogongrass.org.
Landowners can take a sample or a digital photo of suspected cogongrass to the local Extension Service office for help identifying the weed.
John Byrd, Mississippi State University Extension Service weed scientist, said the university is involved in the battle against this invasive plant.
“We are evaluating management systems using some new herbicides that we think will allow selective control of cogongrass in bahiagrass systems,” Byrd said. “We also have identified herbicides that selectively control cogongrass in pines.”
Other research has found a highly effective, non-chemical control method for cogongrass.
“You can get rid of cogongrass if you rototill it three times a year for two years using the tiller on the back of a tractor,” Byrd said.
Cogongrass is an invasive problem because it outcompetes native vegetation, taking over where other grasses once thrived. Byrd said it does this by producing a toxin that inhibits the growth of other plants and by sheer shoot density.
Once cogongrass is identified, landowners are urged to get rid of it. Animals do not feed on it, so it is not controlled with grazing.
“Be vigilant and on the lookout for it, and when you find it, treat it,” Byrd said.
Jim Hancock, MFC Invasive Plant Control program coordinator, said cogongrass is often referred to as the perfect weed.
“It changes the total ecosystem,” Hancock said. “It has no natural enemies, so it takes over wherever it goes. It creates such a fuel source that it burns four times hotter than a normal fire and damages trees that a fire would not normally hurt.”
The counties where landowner assistance is available for the fight against cogongrass are Wayne, Rankin, Simpson, Smith, Jasper, Clarke, Newton, Scott, Attala, Choctaw, Clay, Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Webster, Noxubee, Winston, Leake, Neshoba, Kemper and Lauderdale. Information on this program is available online at http://www.mfc.ms.gov/fh_cogongrass.htm or by calling (877) 708-7651.
Byrd said a congressional decision eliminated this earmark in the federal budget. There will be no more dollars headed to Mississippi directed toward landowner assistance programs once the MFC money has been spent.
The Mississippi Forestry Commission has a wealth of information on this weed available at http://www.mfc.ms.gov/.