Move over kudzu. Cogongrass is now the most obnoxious weed in Florida.
"Kudzu's no longer the poster child. Cogongrass is a big deal," says University of Flolrida forestry researcher Shibu Jose in Gainesville. "It's becoming a major, major problem."
Cogongrass (CO-gun-grass) has yellowish-green foliage and can reach 4 feet tall, jose says.
Introduced into Alabama from Japan as a packing material in 1912, cogongrass was tested as a forage crop in the 1920s, which allowed it to gain a toehold. It began expanding in the 1970s and 1980s, Jose says, and is now causing problems in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
A 2003 survey showed 1.5 million acres of cogongrass across the Southeast, compared with 1 million acres of kudzu, Jose says. Florida has about 500,000 acres of cogongrass.
Cogongrass is well-suited to its role as an aggressive weed. It's a perennial that can spread quickly underground, its roots easily besting other plants for water, nutrients and space.
Cogongrass also thrives where fire is a regular occurrence. Jose believes recent wildfires may make the problem worse, because fires kill smaller trees and plants, leaving lots of room for cogongrass to move in and take over.
When cogongrass squeezes out native plants, it can hurt animals that depend on those plants for food or shelter.
Some Florida counties, such as Alachua and Marion, are making a concerted effort to bring everyone from government officials to landowners to researchers together to eradicate cogongrass. But the entire state must be on board, he says.
"It doesn't do any good if everyone's not doing the treatments. Private landowners, agencies, et cetera?everyone has to work together," he says. "If we don't do this, we will see cogongrass everywhere."
Cogongrass can be controlled, but it takes a specific regimen of mowing and controlled burns, coupled with repeated, well-timed herbicide treatments, he says.
For more information, visit www.cogongrass.org.