The Walker County Office of the Alabama Forestry Commission is asking for the public’s help in identifying areas were cogongrass may be growing in Walker County so the AFC can eradicate the noxious weed from the community.
“This stuff can be seen growing mostly along the state and county right-of-ways, but it’s spreading to private lands as well,” said Jason Berry, one of the AFC Foresters for Walker County. “We need the public’s help to identify the areas in our county where cogongrass may be growing, so we can do what we can to get rid of it before it becomes a major problem.”
Cogongrass is a perennial grass native to Southeast Asia, but it was introduced to the United States through the Mobile area in 1912 as packing material for satsuma oranges from Japan. The initial efforts to use the grass for erosion control failed miserably, and the plant made its escape in the 1920s. It began to rapidly spread in the 1950s as agriculture equipment and road systems evolved. Now cogongrass has taken the country by storm and has quickly become a very serious pest in dozens of states, including Alabama.
“Forestry has partnered with the Alabama Department of Transportation and local municipalities to bring awareness to this issue,” Berry said. “Livestock won’t eat it, and it poses a very high fire hazard, so we’re doing everything we can to educate the public on this matter.”
Cogongrass can be found in more than 75 percent of Alabama counties, and through federal funding and interactions with agencies and private entities the Alabama Forestry Commission has overseen the mapping of more than 36,400 individual locations of cogongrass since May 27, 2014.
Over half of those documented cases are in the southwest corner of the state, but the AFC has already identified several areas in Walker County because this invasive grass has now made its way north through the state.
“Right now it can be easily identified because its in bloom. But, once those fluffy white seed heads fly away, it will be hard for us (Forestry) to spot it,” Berry said. “So, if anybody thinks they may have some on their property, they need to contact us as soon as possible so we can come out and take a look at it.”
Cogongrass blooms from late March to mid June. It rapidly makes it presence known by being highly aggressive and out competing many native plants, suppresses tree growth and may even release chemicals into the soil in a type of plant warfare.
The robust green blades of cogongrass are often mistaken for Johnson grass, but cogongrass blades can grow up to 6 feet long. There is no apparent stem, as the leaves appear to arise directly from or close to the ground, and its dense mat of creeping rhizome (roots) at the top foot of soil have many sharp points. The roots are covered in flaky scales and appear bright white underneath those scales. The circular infestations often turn at least partially brown in the winter, depending on the climate.
While there are many ways to fight back against cogongrass, the two general methods that work best are plowing below the root layer and using the chemical known as Glyphosate.
• Plowing should be done every six weeks, at least one growing season or until gone, if chemicals cannot or should not be applied. Remember to clean equipment before moving it to a new location to avoid spreading the seeds to other areas.
• Glyphosate is foliar active (does not persist in the soil) and should be applied in the early summer and again in late summer/early fall, 30 days prior to frost. Be sure to follow the label on the herbicide and repeat each year until gone.
“That’s why we need the public’s help in identifying areas in our county where cogongrass is right now, so we can take the appropriate steps to hopefully get rid of it,” Berry said. “We’re probably not going to eradicate it completely, but at least we can hopefully keep it at bay.”
Berry said landowners who think there may be a cogongrass infestation on their property should immediately contact the Alabama Forestry Commission Walker County Office at 205-384-6344 and leave a message.
“If they’ll leave us a message, we’ll get back with them as quickly as possible to make arrangements to come check things out,” Berry added. “We also have information on cogongrass available at our business office, which is located at 1710 Alabama Avenue in downtown Jasper.”