Invasive cogongrass causes fire concerns

Invasive cogongrass causes fire concerns

23 April 2007

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Myrtle Beach, SC, USA — It’s worse than kudzu.

That’s how many experts describe a grass native to the Philippines that’sbeen found in Charleston County and could spread to the Grand Strand: cogongrass.

Officials want to enlist anyone who spends time outdoors to keep cogongrassfrom spreading across the state, said George Kessler, a retired ClemsonUniversity professor.

“We believe that it’s in the introductory stage as far as development inour state, and we don’t think it’s become a serious invasive plant as of yet,”Kessler said.

“We’re really asking people who have an interest and are outside a bitto keep their eyes open to help possibly identify this species. Invasive speciesas a whole have a tendency to begin very slowly. South Carolina has had this nowfor two or three years in just a couple of spots, but now it’s started to spreadin several spots.”

The aggressive Asian grass, which was first introduced around 1911 in MobileBay, Ala., grows so densely that officials say it’s highly flammable andprovides fuel for forest fires.

“The grass is very flammable and it burns much hotter than what you’dthink of as a grass fire,” Kessler said. “It outcompetes nativevegetation, and when it grows, it eliminates other vegetation to be able to growon that site. This is probably one of the 10 worst invasive plants in the world.”

The grass has been verified in eight counties and was found in November inthe Francis Marion National Forest in Charleston County recently, said BruceJohnson, Horry County’s Clemson Extension agent.

“There was one infestation in Charleston and someone liked the way thegrass looked, dug it up and now its established in Beaufort County, Hilton Head,I believe,” Johnson said of the grass which has attractive white blooms anddense grass-like characteristics.

“Because it makes such a dense growth, once it gets established, theythink we have fire hazards now, it’s even worse because of that dense growth. Itmay resemble other grasses, but in a forestry situation, if you were to cut outthe trees, they could not naturally reseed because of it.”

The person who transplanted it in a pot reported it burst through the bottomof the pot with its strong rhizome roots, Johnson said of cogongrass, known byits scientific name of Imperata cylindrical.

“It is a rhizome-producing plant that can be spread by seed,” hesaid. “All forms of cogongrass are illegal to transport, sell or distributein South Carolina, regardless of variety.”

Kessler estimated that the invasive weed with rough, sharp edges and highsilica content covers about a million acres in Florida, he said. It blooms fromApril to June and should be easily recognized during that time, he said.

“It’s very showy; it has a white fluffy-looking flower,” Kesslersaid. “One of the real concerns we have is if people find patches of it,the last thing we want them to do is plow it up.”


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