Asian weed moves into 12 SC counties, burns 'like gasoline'

By Ava Wilhite

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) Cogongrass has spread to a dozen South Carolina counties, including Charleston, Beaufort and Colleton.

Now Clemson University has posted billboards warning people of the grass. It's a billboard not to be missed according to Clemson University's Invasive Species Coordinator Steve Compton.

"Cogongrass is one that we consider very important. It has disrupted agriculture, it's also a threat to forestry and also in persons yard. It could be detrimental to their landscaping," said Compton.

He said Cogongrass begins to bloom in May, so it should look exactly like the picture on the billboard.{}

"It looks sort of like a miniature pampas grass that is used as an ornamental plant. This one grows shorter; the flower's small, but it's silvery white," said Compton.{}

An Asian native, Cogongrass chokes out indigenous plants that provide food and shelter for birds, animals and insects. Across the South, some surveys have shown it is as pervasive as kudzu.

"The economic impact of this pest is extensive," said Sherry Aultman, who coordinates Clemson's Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey program. "It disrupts native habitats for other vegetation that is food for livestock and wildlife. It interferes with prescribed burns in forestry. Nothing will eat Cogongrass, so it has no benefit whatsoever."

Compton said the weed can be found in any location that permits growing abilities, including the Francis Marion Forest. He said the grass is really dangerous to pine trees because it's a hazard to burn it.

"It prevents controlled or prescribed burns because Cogongrass when it burns, it burns a lot hotter than the normal understory plants do and so it makes it really difficult to maintain nice clean understory in the eco-pine system," said Compton.{}

He said the weed could easily be transported into a back yard.{}

"The main reason it's being spread is because of movement by machinery and soil that's contaminated with the rhizomes. In some cases we've found it attached to nursery stock coming from Southern states like Alabama and Florida," said Compton.

Compton said it's best not to dig it up, but to wait for inspectors to confirm it is Cogongrass. He said the average cost for treatment is $150 per acre.{}