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“Cogongrass is so aggressive, if left unchecked it can replace an entire ecosystem,” says Jim Hancock, invasive plant control program coordinator for the Mississippi Forestry Commission at Brookhaven. It has been called “the weed from hell” and “the mother of all invasive species.”
Expense to fight grass "enormous"
Judd Brooke, a Hancock County, Miss., landowner, says the expense of fighting the grass has been “enormous — but we had to do it, because it was starting to smother out areas of the forest — there was no natural vegetation at all; it even choked out yaupons and wax myrtles. It was totally changing the characteristics of the forest. In areas where we were planting trees, no seedling would grow, the plant and root mass is so thick.”
J.B. Brown, a Stone County timber producer, says, “Until we thinned pines about five years ago, didn’t notice much cogongrass, but after thinning it was sprouting everywhere.
“It also has a negative impact on wildlife. Birds won’t consume the seeds. The grass is so thick, there’s no way turkey poults or quail chicks can navigate through it; they can’t nest in it or forage in it”
Randy Merritt, Mississippi Forestry Commission ranger, says cogongrass represents a major fire threat.
“Due to its high vegetative density and biomass, burning grass produces a very volatile fire that can reach temperatures of up to 850 degrees with flames five feet high, and spread very quickly. This high heat usually kills trees and surrounding vegetation, as well as endangering homes and farm buildings. If there’s any wind, we have trouble with it jumping firebreaks. Even with no wind, it’ll spread much faster than any other kind of fire, and it’s extremely hard to extinguish.”
John Byrd, Jr., Mississippi Extension professor of weed science, says one of most important identification features of cogongrass is that it blooms in the spring.
“It grows during summer, but unlike other warm season grasses, except zoysia, it blooms immediately after turns green for summer growth, and then forms white, fluffy seedheads.”
Another identification feature is its rhizome system. “Johnsongrass has rhizomes, but cogongrass rhizomes arefar more extensive and numerous,” he says. “Each of the many nodes on a rhizome is capable of producing roots and a new plant above ground. Over 60 percent of the plant’s biomass is in roots and rhizomes, and that’s what you have to kill to completely eradicate a population.”