The state of South Carolina is working hard to stop the spread of an invasive weed which spreads easily and is difficult to kill.
Experts at Clemson University’s Department of Plant Industry have been trying to stop the spread of cogongrass for years. The non-native plant entered the U.S. used as packing material for Japanese oranges through the port of Mobile, Alabama more than 100 years ago.
“It’s really a problem more in the Southeast where it’s taken thousands and thousands — maybe a million acres or so,” environmental health manager Stephen Compton said. He has been working to eradicate cogongrass from South Carolina for 15 years.
“It’s a fire hazard, particularly for prescribed burns in our managed forests,” he said. “So if it gets into the forests it burns very hot and these high temperatures that produces in a prescribed burn actually can kill the desirable trees instead of just killing the understory.”
With timber being one of South Carolina’s leading industries, any threat is taken seriously.
“The invasion of cogongrass into South Carolina is still in the early stages. In order to stop this weed from becoming the complete menace seen in Alabama and Florida, we need your help,” the department’s cogongrass page states. “Anyone who spends time outdoors can help find this grass and report any sightings.”
And once cogongrass establishes itself, getting rid of it is difficult.
“It will form a monoculture,” Compton said. “It will just be nothing there but cogongrass. It would just keep growing and it actually puts a poison into the soil that keeps other plants from growing. So it out-competes the native plants. . . it’s something that you can’t ever walk away from.”
The only way to control it is to spray it with chemicals, which requires multiple applications.
“It’s kind of sneaky . . . if it’s chemically treated or mowed a lot, the rhizomes will lie dormant in the earth until it is disturbed and then the plant will come up and start growing again,” he said. “I think this is far worse than Kudzu. Kudzu’s a little bit easier to deal with.”
And, like Kudzu’s spread across the Southeast, cogongrass has taken root in the same states.
“A lot of nursery stock comes from Alabama, Mississippi and Florida,” Compton said. “Some of these nurseries are located in cogongrass grows so seed and rhizomes end up in the nursery stock and then it’s moved and planted in South Carolina.”
Compton said cogongrass has been detected in 13 counties throughout the state. The highest concentration is in Hampton County, where the state’s first report of cogongrass came in 1987. Of the 13 counties where it’s been reported, Compton said it’s been eradicated in eight counties, but the sites need continued monitoring.
Cogongrass has been confirmed in Aiken, Allendale, Anderson, Beaufort, Colleton, Charleston, Dorchester, Florence, Greenville, Hampton, Pickens, Williamsburg and York Counties.
“Our awareness program has been our strongest too because there’s only eight inspectors that are out looking for it,” he said. “So to cover the entire state we need the citizens of the state to help us.”
A current campaign using billboards and SCDNR publications statewide has increased reports.
If you see what you suspect to be cogongrass, call the Department of Plant Industry at 864-646-2140 or click here to file a report online.