Clemson taking steps to stop cogongrass spread

If you spend a lot of time outdoors, Clemson University would like to have your help in combatting the spread of one of the world’s worst weeds — cogongrass.

A native of Asia, cogongrass spreads through wind-blown seed and rhizomes, and once established it can choke out native plants, destroy sources of food for wildlife and raise the potential for forest fires.

Clemson University has scheduled a cogongrass identification training session for April 5 to be broadcast to sites around the state.

“The program will be appropriate for county agents, electric utility workers, employees of agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the State Forestry Commission, as well as consultants, landowners, hunters and fishermen,” said George Kessler, Clemson Extension forester.

He said Clemson’s Department of Plant Industry (DPI) is responsible for plant inspections and controlling invasive species such as cogongrass.

“They have only eight people,” said Kessler. “That’s not enough manpower. We want to increase the number of eyes on the ground through as many volunteers as we can train and control it while we can, before it spreads widely in South Carolina.”

Cogongrass has been confirmed in Aiken, Allendale, Anderson, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton and Pickens counties.

“Cogongrass poses a special problem,” said Steve Compton, one of the regulatory agents with DPI. When the plant blooms — anywhere from April through June, depending on the local environment — it puts on a showy display of white, fluffy seed heads. “Because the weed is attractive, some people dig it up for home gardens.” His department has aggressively encouraged plant retailers and nurseries to remove cogongrass varieties from their inventories.

Kessler said some retailers have marketed varieties which they claim to be sterile. He said, however, that even some of those varieties eventually revert to being able to spread by wind-borne seed.

“They also spread through the rhizomes, even if they aren’t producing seeds,” he said.

Four sites have already been lined up for the April 5 broadcast. They will be at sites to be announced in Greenville, Sumter, Walterboro and Newberry. Kessler said he hopes to have at least 20 sites eventually. Anyone wishing more information may contact Kessler at 864-656-4836 ([email protected]) or Jeanne Campbell at 864-656-2479 ([email protected]).

Anyone interested in the topic may contact their local Clemson Extension office.

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