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Cogongrass: The new kudzu

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Move over, kudzu -- there's a new weed around, and it's headed our way.

The highly invasive cogongrass is being called the new weed to reckon with, according to scientists across the Southeast.

A perennial that spreads from wind-blown seeds and scaly, white rhizomes, cogongrass was introduced into the United States both accidentally and intentionally.

"It made its way into the country on ships that ported in Alabama," said Tim Murphy, an Extension weed scientist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Came in on ships

"It was used as a packing material," Murphy said. "Then it was evaluated for soil erosion control and as a forage grass. Unfortunately, cattle won't eat it."

Now found in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia, cogongrass has been added to the Federal Noxious Weeds List. It has also been identified in Bainbridge, Ga. and a few other spots in southeast Georgia, Murphy said.

"It hasn't spread across our state yet, but it's just a matter of time," he said. "We've just got a small infestation now. But it's a highly evasive weed that can quickly displace native vegetation."

Cogongrass produces upright, smooth stems that grow 2 to 4 feet high and form compacted stands. It normally flowers in March to May, producing silvery or white, silky hairs that look like plumes.

Fire hazard, hard to manage

Besides taking over other plants, cogongrass is a fire hazard.

"It creates an extremely hot fire which can easily destroy small pine stands," Murphy said.

Cogongrass isn't a weed that can be easily managed. Researchers in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi are trying to find ways to control it.

"Kudzu can at least be managed, and it has some redeeming qualities," Murphy said. "Animals graze it, and some people cook with it."

Cogongrass isn't a major problem in Georgia yet.

"It will eventually move into the southern portion of our state," he said. "It will take a coordinated effort among private landowners and various state and federal agencies to prevent it from becoming a major problem."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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