“It grows almost anywhere and has started showing up in Augusta, too,” said Forest Health Specialist Mark Raines, a Waynesboro-based detective of sorts who investigates invasive plant cases for the Forestry Commission’s 53-county central region.
The weed forms a dense root mat that makes it resistent to most control methods and chokes out native vegetation and crops including young pine trees. It also depletes soil nutrients.
Federal authorities rank cogongrass No. 7 among the world’s worst weeds, saying its infestation covers 500 million acres workdwide.
Since it arrived in Alabama in 1911 aboard shipping containers from Japan, the invasive weed has continued to spread across the Southeast, including Georgia, where state officials are working hard to contain its expansion.
“Every single spot in Georgia we know about is being treated, and will continue to be as long as we have funds to keep doing it,” Raines said.
Efforts to slow its spread through Georgia depend largely on landowners who help identify patches of cogongrass, and also includes education programs to help avoid the inadvertent spread of seeds or roots aboard logging equipment.
So far, the weeds are winning. The number of known sites has grown from 96 in 2007 to at least 618 today, with more and more areas in east and central Georgia.
In the Augusta area, patches have been found in areas ranging from a flower bed at the Georgia Welcome Center on Interstate 20 to a field behind an apartment building on Fort Gordon. “There was also a patch found in McDuffie County, along I-20 east of Thomson,” Raines said.
No patches have been found in Columbia County, however.
The grass is easily spread, and often travels long distances aboard logging equipment that has been used in Southwest Georgia, where the heaviest infestations are found. Neighboring FLorida and Alabama also have high densities of cogongrass.
“We try to do programs with landowners who lease their lands, or have a lot of timber cutting,” he said. “If they have people coming in from out of state, they could be bringing it in with them. Landowners are starting to have people clean their equipment before moving it in.”
Cogongrass produces white, gauzy seed heads in the spring, when it is most easily identified. Landowners should watch for those eye-catching flowers, which resemble miniature cattails, and report possible cogongrass infestations to forestry officials.
Citizens who have found the grass in the Augusta area should contact the Georgia Forestry Commission at (706) 437-6896.