County sprays roadsides for invasive cogongrass

County sprays roadsides for invasive cogongrass

09 July 2011

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USA — At first glance, Betty Reynolds thought her neighbors across the street from her north Crestview home had had a brush fire that destroyed the grass and some of the shrubs.

The grass was withered and brown, and some of the leaves of trees, vines and shrubs in the thick vegetation were brown.

The foliage actually had been destroyed by chemicals. Working the with Florida Division of Forestry, the Okaloosa County Public Works Department has been spraying a herbicide along county roads to help control the spread of cogongrass, said county Roads Division Manager Russ Barry.

“We are working with the state of Florida on cogongrass, so we’re using a herbicide out there,” Barry said.

Barry said crews are using a spray apparatus from the Division of Forestry to apply a derivative of Roundup to control the grass. Barry assured the product is not harmful to wildlife.

“The state would not allow us to do it if it were toxic to fish or pets,” Barry said.

“Cogongrass is a nonnative invasive species,” said Joe Zwierzchowski, a mitigation specialist for the Division of Forestry. “Okaloosa County has as much if not more than any of our three counties (Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties).”

Cogongrass is recognized by 73 countries as one of the worst weeds in the world, Zwierzchowski said. Its hardiness and rapid growth stifle tree regeneration and choke out animal habitats.

“It is basically a super grass that will take the moisture and nutrients out of the soil,” he said. “No animals will eat it.”

It is also a great fuel for wildfires and must be treated carefully during controlled burns, Zwierzchowski said.

“It is extremely flammable,” he said. “If we see a patch of cogongrass in an area we’re going to burn, we have to mark it as a hazard.”

Even so, it can withstand fires up to 400 degrees, forestry officials said at a seminar in Baker last year. That makes it hard to eradicate by fire. Even with its puffy white seed head blooms and wide blades burnt away, the grass’ root system can survive.

“If it could be destroyed by fire we wouldn’t waste Roundup on it,” Zwierzchowski said.

Cogongrass spreads extremely easily. Barry said his department has to spray twice for it during the summer.

“It is very, very easy to spread,” Zwierzchowski cautioned. “It’s actually a good looking plant but it’s not a good thing to have around.”

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