Worst of weeds: Experts aim to stop the spread of Cogongrass

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - There's a major problem growing across the Southeast, and it may be in your own backyard.

It's called Cogongrass, and experts from Clemson University's Department of Plant Industry say it's one of the top 10 worst weeds in the world. They're currently working to stop the spread in South Carolina.

"There's no benefit for Cogongrass," said Steve Compton with Clemson's Department of Plant Industry. "It's not good for feed. It's not good for the environment."

Virtually purposeless, Compton says the invasive weed has found a way to plant itself all over the Southeast. He's been tasked with finding it and getting rid of it in South Carolina. "Cogongrass was introduced in the United States in about 1911 through the port of Mobile and was brought to the country as packing material for orange trees," said Compton.

Compton says over time the weed's seed and its underground stems called rhizomes have been picked up and spread around. "In Alabama and Florida there are now millions of acres of it," added Compton.

Compton says when Cogongrass spreads it chokes the life out of natural ecosystems, and it's also a serious fire hazard. "When Cogongrass burns, it burns very hot," said Compton. "I've heard of cars catching fire from pulling off into it and the hot exhaust touching the grass."

Compton says the weed looks similar to other weeds like Johnsongrass. However, he adds Cogongrass is easier to identify when its soft silver tip blooms.

At this time, Compton says Cogongrass has been found in twelve South Carolina counties, but they're investigating reports of the weed all over the state. "Most of the population's are fairly small, so we feel like we have a chance of stopping it."

Clemson's Department of Plant Industry has posted billboards all over the state that say "Stop the Spread" and point to a picture of the invasive weed. Compton says that's because they need the public's help to find where the weed may be growing. "There are a lot of grasses out there that look like false reports, but that's okay," said Compton. "We want to know where these populations are so we can tend to them and help the homeowners get rid of them."

Cogongrass won't die with average weed killer so Compton says they have to treat it with a specific chemical. He says because it is a chemical, they prefer to use the treatments in small amounts which is why they're trying to catch Cogongrass before it spreads like it has in Florida and Alabama.

If you think you've seen Cogongrass in our area, you're asked to notify Clemson University's Department of Plant Industry. You can notify them online http://www.clemson.edu/cafls/cogongrass/reportcogon.html or call them at (864) 646-2140.