Japanese blood grass becoming a problem

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 7, 2008

The nursery industry is constantly breeding new plant materials both for aesthetics and adaptability for the landscape.
It is not uncommon for breeders to spend years developing the perfect plant. However, with good intentions they often develop a plant that adapts too well and can be a nuisance.
Kudzu and honeysuckle are just two examples of promising plants that went askew of their intended purpose. Japanese blood grass or cogongrass that was introduced as a dwarf ornamental grass has now become a noxious weed under strict control by the N.C. Department of Agriculture.
The once desirable ornamental grass is now one of the world’s 10 worst weeds. Cogongrass was accidentally introduced into Alabama around 1911 as seed in packing materials from Japan and introduced to growers as a forage crop.
Japanese blood grass is a perennial grass reaching 2 feet tall with lime green leaves and distinctive red tips. Unfortunately, the grass can revert to an extremely aggressive 4-5 foot tall grassy weed. The plant has already invaded 153 billion acres worldwide and is becoming established in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, and has now been found in South Carolina.
In Florida alone, the weed has infested 1 million acres, where it has displaced many native species of plants. Cogongrass invades pastures, where it reduces the forage quality because its leaves are unpalatable to livestock. It can quickly displace other vegetation in forests and fields, including native plants that birds and small animals need for shelter and forage.
According to Steve Troxler, commissioner of agriculture, “Widespread infestations of cogongrass displace native vegetation and frequently serve as a fuel source for fires, creating concerns for safety and property loss.”
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Plant Industry Division and other states in the South have taken the initiative to control the potential disaster by prohibiting the propagation, nursery cultivation, sale and distribution of cogongrass.
The ban includes all cultivars, including Red Baron or Japanese blood grass. Cooperative Extension is maintaining a small planting of the ornamental grass in the Master Gardener Ornamental Grass Trial garden at the Agricultural Center located on Old Concord in Salisbury to allow the public to identify the plant if needed.
However, the ornamental grass will be destroyed as soon as it begins to spread. The N.C. Department of Agriculture recommends home gardeners keep a close watch on the grass and destroy it if it gets out of control. More information on this ornamental grass turned weed can be found at www.cogongrass.org or www.invasive.org/browse/ subject.cfm?sub=2433 or contact Rick Iverson, NC Department of Agriculture weed specialist, at (919) 733-3931, ext. 246.
Darrell Blackwelder is an agent- in horticulture for the Rowan County Center, N.C. Cooperative Extension; call 704-216-8970.
http://www.rowanmastergardener. com