A small patch of cogongrass, considered by many experts to be one of the world’s worst weeds, was discovered recently in Stanly County by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

This is the second confirmed infestation in North Carolina; the first was in Pender County in May 2012.

The Stanly County stand covers an area less than 200 square feet. It is not clear how this small clump started, but cogongrass can easily become established if seeds or rhizomes are transported as a contaminant on equipment or on commodities, such as hay, that are moved from other states where the weed is established.

The department’s North Carolina Forest Service and Plant Industry Division are surveying land around the infestation and will treat the stand with herbicide.

Cogongrass has surpassed kudzu in the number of acres it covers in the Southeast. The largest infestations are in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.

Cogongrass was inadvertently introduced into the U.S. in 1912 near Mobile, Ala., arriving in a shipment of Satsuma oranges from Japan that used the grass as packing material. It was also introduced intentionally into Florida and Mississippi as a potential feed, but research trials proved cogongrass unsuitable for that use.

Considered a federal noxious weed, cogongrass has the ability to invade diverse habitats and quickly displace native vegetation, changing the way the ecosystem functions.

For example, cogongrass will make longleaf pine communities susceptible to more frequent and hotter wildfires than normal. Even though longleaf pine is adapted to fire, seedlings are unable to tolerate the more frequent and hotter fires created by established cogongrass.

North Carolina Forest Service workers discovered the Stanly County infestation during a routine evaluation of a stand of trees that had recently been thinned to improve tree health. It was confirmed by the Plant Industry Division.

The public is encouraged to learn more about cogongrass and how to identify it by visiting www.cogongrass.org. Suspected infestations should be reported to the department by calling 1-800-206-9333 or sending an email to newpest@ncagr.gov.

Cogongrass can be easily distinguished from other grasses during May and June when seed heads are likely to emerge. The seed heads are cylindrical in shape, about 2 to 8 inches long, white and fluffy. The root system of cogongrass is also distinctive because of the sharp shoot tips that sprout from the roots.

 

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