Cogongrass can completely take over a forested area, smothering out all other vegetation and changing the ecosystem.

It’s a widespread problem in several Southern states. But not in Georgia — yet, says a University of Georgia forestry expert.

From now until early summer, its fluffy, silvery seed heads will wave like flags marking spots in the forest, along roadways or other places in Georgia where cogongrass has taken a hold, said Dave Moorhead, co-director of the Center for Invasive Species & Ecosystem Health on the UGA Tifton, Ga., campus.

“Right now, no other grass in Georgia has that kind of seed head,” he said. “It’s the best time of year to find it and start measures to control it.”

Moorhead, along with 22 public and private partners in the Georgia Cogongrass Task Force, has spearheaded state-wide trainings to help UGA Cooperative Extension agents and county road crews identify cogongrass.

“County road crews out on equipment are more likely to see infestations, especially this time of year,” Moorhead said.

Since arriving as packing material aboard cargo ships landing in Alabama a century ago, the invasive grass has moved throughout that state, Mississippi and Florida, where it covers more than a million acres. But its spread in Georgia has been limited and slow, he said.

The likely reason is that cogongrass was planted as livestock forage for several years in the states that now have problems with it, but not in Georgia. And it’s best to keep it that way, he said.

The grass can grow any place that isn’t permanently wet. It’s even saltwater tolerant. Once it has a foothold in an area, the grass can be very difficult to kill, he said.

“You can’t control it with a single herbicide treatment. You can’t treat once and just walk away,” he said. “It’s an ongoing treatment for many years to eliminate it from an area.”

To date, cogongrass has been identified on 220 sites in 28 Georgia counties. The largest site is 10 acres. “But we know there are more sites out there,” Moorhead said.

To learn more about the grass and how to identify it, go to the Web site cogongrass.org. If you see a suspect site, contact your local UGA Extension office by calling 1-800-ASK- UGA1.