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Alabama Wages War Against the Perfect Weed 360

Posted by kdawson
from the keep-watching-the-skies-dexter dept.
pickens writes "Dan Berry writes in the NY Times that the State of Alabama is spending millions of dollars in federal stimulus money to combat Cogongrass, a.k.a. the perfect weed, the killer weed, and the weed from another continent. A weed that 'evokes those old science-fiction movies in which clueless citizens ignore reports of an alien invasion.' Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica) is considered one of the 10 worst weeds in the world. 'It can take over fields and forests, ruining crops, destroying native plants, upsetting the ecosystem,' writes Berry. 'It is very difficult to kill. It burns extremely hot. And its serrated leaves and grainy composition mean that animals with even the most indiscriminate palates — goats, for example — say no thanks.' Alabama's overall strategy is to draw a line across the state at Highway 80 and eradicate everything north of it; then, in phases, to try to control it to the south. But the weed is so resilient that you can't kill it with one application of herbicide, you have to return several months later and do it again. 'People think this is just a grass,' says forester Stephen Pecot. 'They don't understand that cogongrass can replace an entire ecosystem.' Left unchecked, Pecot says 'it could spread all the way to Michigan.'"
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Alabama Wages War Against the Perfect Weed

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  • Japanese Knot Weed (Score:5, Informative)

    by buggy_throwback (259436) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @06:29AM (#29513401) Homepage
    We have the same problem in the UK with Japanese Knot Weed. Nothing eats it, it can respawn from the smallest cutting. So you can't burn it, you can't throw it away, you can only poison it. And each stem has to be done individually, and the process needs to be repeated two or three times to kill the bloody thing. They're talking about introducing some japanese insects that feed on it, but then what's to say they wont prefer strawberries or wheat or something else?
  • Re:Disappointed (Score:2, Informative)

    by plams (744927) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @06:59AM (#29513519) Homepage
    I reached the Wikipedia article on Imperata cylindrica [wikipedia.org], saw the "Weed problems" section and thought, "..slang is usually rejected by the sta... oooohhh, that kind of weed!"
  • by mbone (558574) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @07:02AM (#29513533)

    This sounds a lot like Kudzu - another plant brought over from Japan.

    From TFA "For a while, government officials encouraged the use of cogongrass as a forage crop and as a way to stem soil erosion."

    We did that with Kudzu too. What's with these agricultural guys promoting alien species they clearly know nothing about ?

    Although, if nothing wants to eat it, why promote it as a forage crop ? That does suggest that some animal must like it. There must be some reason why the South of Japan is not one mass of Kudzu and cogongrass.

  • by Gori (526248) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @07:43AM (#29513709) Homepage

    That has been tried a number of times, and each time ended in a epic fail. For a case study, talk to any Aussie about Rabbits http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbits_in_Australia [wikipedia.org] or about the cane toad see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cane_toad [wikipedia.org]

  • by juggledean (792527) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @07:49AM (#29513735) Homepage Journal

    You can eat kudzu leaves as salad or boiled greens. Goats will eat it as well.

  • by arielCo (995647) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @08:02AM (#29513791)

    Thing is, it does a lot more damage than the dreaded corn plantations [nps.gov]:

    ECOLOGICAL THREAT Cogon grass can invade and overtake disturbed ecosystems, forming a dense mat of thatch and leaves that makes it nearly impossible for other plants to coexist. Large infestations of cogon grass can alter the normal fire regime of a fire-driven ecosystem by causing more frequent and intense fires that injure or destroy native plants. Cogon grass displaces a large variety of native plant species used by native animals (e.g., insects, mammals, and birds) as forage, host plants and shelter. Some ground-nesting species have also been known to be displaced due to the dense cover that cogon grass creates.

    Also, it won't just stay together in a patch but it reaches out [wikipedia.org]. WP dixit:

    It spreads both through small seeds, which are easily carried by the wind, and rhizomes which can be transported by tilling equipment and in soil transport.

    Nasty thing.

  • by Fotherington (962601) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @08:25AM (#29513935)
    Looking at the Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org], both your examples involve vertebrates, which are definitely a bad idea (it also mentions the introduction of mongooses to Hawaii). Biological pest control using e.g. insects [wikipedia.org], or fungi [wikipedia.org] targetting the undesirable species can work very effectively if research is put in [udel.edu] to make sure that the native species won't be affected.
  • Re:The perfect weed? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Shakrai (717556) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @08:50AM (#29514161) Journal

    Japanese Knotweed. The stuff grows insanely fast and spreads rhizomatically, so it's a bitch to kill.

    I was going to post on this but you beat me to it. It's virtually impossible to kill. I've helped dig it up before and have discovered roots that exceed 20 feet in length. Nothing native to the Americas seems to be able to compete with it. It's a real PITA.

  • Re:The perfect weed? (Score:5, Informative)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @09:20AM (#29514435) Homepage

    Being from the south, I think I would rank kudzu above all.

    My goats will clean up kudzu like it's candy. Not only will they strip the leaves, you'll see them standing on their hind legs trying to drag the vines down out of the trees. They eat leaves, vines, stems, roots and all. Reminds of a casino buffet on seafood night. And because they have a 4 chambered stomach, the digestion process pretty much kills the seeds. I've never seen them spread it anyway. As a bonus, goats can handle the terrain kudzu seems to thrive in.

    If goats don't eat cogongrass, then that is some bad stuff. They can strip the leaves off blackberry bushes while avoiding the stickers, all they leave behind are stands of dead stalks. If it's that bad...that's a real problem.

  • Re:The perfect weed? (Score:4, Informative)

    by hedge49 (147092) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @09:51AM (#29514763)

    The United States is now home to some of the most unruly plants in the world, like Kudzu vine, which has caused farmers to abandon crops at first sight of the vines at field's edge. It can be seen sneaking across highways on the lightning wires over power lines, and creating strange sculptures of the barns, tractors, and forests it covers throughout the southeast. Florida has two of these plants, the Kajeput, and the Australian Pine (Aussies call it American Pine..Apparently, nobody wants it) Both of these trees were introduced by the US Army Corps of Engineers to perform some function ancillary to one or another of their endeavors, but now reviled as environmentally obnoxious in their ability to grow in any condition from standing water to alkali flat. Kajeput has the additional benefit of burning hot to its top (oily sap and leaves) thereby killing off the native palms that used to survive naturally occurring fires. Remember what Newton said, "Nature abhors a vacuum". And stuff like these plants, and some of the other, more mobile creatures that have apparently taken heart and moved on from their original, pest-opposed environments, are now enjoying the benefits of life with no natural opposition, except people.

  • Run for your lives! (Score:4, Informative)

    by vorlich (972710) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @09:54AM (#29514805) Homepage Journal
    Well we can chalk this up alongside: The termite colony in England that will soon devour the East Coast, the English Wallaby colony, The devouring rhododendron of Wales, the German Racoon Colony, and lets not forget all those other weeds busy clogging up the waterways of Europe nor the somewhat rampant (and delicious baked in a pie) American Grey Squirrel locked in a Star Wars type war with the Rebel Alliance of Red Squirrels - also in the UK.

    Then there's the Florida Pythons (not a new comedy team), South American Fire ants and First Amongst Equals the Cane Toad in Oz.

    However I do believe the English landed Gentry managed to finish off the last member of the Coypu Colony (sort of giant hamster) but have had no success with the now wild and thoroughly naturalised Mink which is doing an "Alien" along the clogged up waterways ripping everything with a heartbeat to shreds as it advances further and further North.

    Thanks in most part to: Stupidity, Cack Science, well-meaning Animal Libbers, Globalisation and the simple fellow who thought it would be a great idea to have those charming racoons climbing in and out of German wheelie bins (a sort of Euro-dumpster)
  • by es330td (964170) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @09:58AM (#29514871)
    Ummm...No. Not even close. The weakened ones will get killed off by disease and bugs and will leave only the strong ones. The only way this could work would be to somehow give the weak plant DNA some kind of advantage in the fertilization process and it would have to be 100%. This is how natural selection works and will proceed just like drug resistant diseases. We use anti-biotics against diseases and kill the ones that are susceptible, leaving only the ones that aren't to reproduce. The "fit to survive" survive and the remaining strain is that much stronger.
  • Re:The perfect weed? (Score:4, Informative)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @10:25AM (#29515191) Homepage

    Nope, they can pick off even tiny leaves off sticker bushes without getting stuck. There were places on the property that were stands of dead, stripped sticker stalks. A couple years ago you couldn't even see through those places. Their hide is tough so they don't have any trouble walking through the thickets. Their lips and tongues have amazing dexterity. They can pick individual pellets out of their grain bin while avoiding the moldy ones.

    I have a blog [dangercollie.com] if you're interested. I'll try to get some video of them browsing to show how precise they can be, but it's hard because any time I'm out in the pasture they crowd around begging for cookies. If nothing else I'll try to take some pictures of the decimated blackberry bushes.

  • by acomj (20611) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @10:33AM (#29515315) Homepage

    its a simpsons reference when new lizards are introduced

    From Wikipedia:
    Since the town considered the pigeons to be a nuisance, they are delighted with the fact that the lizards have eaten all the pigeons. As a result, Bart is thanked and honored by Mayor Quimby with a loganberry scented candle. Lisa worries that the town will now become infested by lizards rather than the pigeons, but Skinner assures her that they will send in Chinese Needle Snakes, then snake-eating gorillas, and then "winter will take care of the rest."

  • It's everywhere. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Remus Shepherd (32833) <remus@panix.com> on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @11:14AM (#29515803) Homepage

    I just love the Wikipedia page [wikipedia.org] on this stuff. It's pretty clinical and detached, until you get to the bottom and see where it's listed as a 'native' species:

    Categories: Poaceae | Invasive plant species | Flora of the Canary Islands | Flora of Algeria | Flora of Egypt | Flora of Morocco | Flora of Ethiopia | Flora of Kenya | Flora of Tanzania | Flora of Uganda | Flora of Burundi | Flora of Cameroon | Flora of Gabon | Flora of Rwanda | Flora of Benin | Flora of Burkina Faso | Flora of Ghana | Flora of Guinea | Flora of Liberia | Flora of Mali | Flora of Nigeria | Flora of Senegal | Flora of Sierra Leone | Flora of Togo | Flora of Malawi | Flora of Mozambique | Flora of Zambia | Flora of Zimbabwe | Flora of Botswana | Flora of Lesotho | Flora of Namibia | Flora of South Africa | Flora of Swaziland | Flora of Oman | Flora of Yemen | Flora of Afghanistan | Flora of Cyprus | Flora of Iran | Flora of Iraq | Flora of Israel | Flora of Turkey | Flora of Armenia | Flora of Azerbaijan | Flora of Georgia (country) | Flora of Russia | Flora of China | Flora of Japan | Flora of Korea | Flora of Bhutan | Grasses of India | Flora of Nepal | Flora of Pakistan | Flora of Sri Lanka | Flora of Cambodia | Flora of Laos | Flora of Burma | Flora of Thailand | Flora of Vietnam | Flora of Indonesia | Flora of Malaysia | Flora of Papua New Guinea | Flora of the Philippines | Poales of Australia | Flora of Queensland | Flora of Victoria (Australia) | Flora of Tasmania | Angiosperms of Western Australia | Flora of South Australia | Flora of the Northern Territory | Flora of Greece | Flora of Italy | Flora of France | Flora of Portugal | Flora of Spain

    I, for one, welcome our silica-edged (!) sawtooth grass overlords.

  • Re:The perfect weed? (Score:5, Informative)

    by rtb61 (674572) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @11:24AM (#29515937) Homepage

    Under similar circumstances in Australia the CSIRO http://www.csiro.au/science/PestManagement.html [csiro.au] , would investigate the weed species, find it's country of origin, find insects, bacteria or fungi that feed on it and then bring back samples under controlled conditions. These species would then be tested against Australian native plants and commercial species and those imported species that do not predate upon those would then be tested for survivability in the regions most affected by the weed species. Once the optimum control species are found they are released into the environment to control the weed species.

    Although this is by far the most cost effective method of control it often not very popular in capitalism first, last and everything in between countries as there is no opportunity for profit in the solution as it must be given away free, to spread on it's own. In the case of the US the USDA http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/ [invasivespeciesinfo.gov] is the likely agency that should be working on those problems on a federal basis. So rather than throwing away money on spraying and, spraying and, spraying, better to pursue the USDA and get them working on long term biological solutions, where it is all about saving money while saving the environment.

  • Re:The perfect weed? (Score:3, Informative)

    by yo_tuco (795102) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @11:26AM (#29515961)

    I've seen a goat eating a blackberry bush before. It ate everything - the stem, leaves and thorns. It must be that leather tongue. It cleaned out the whole blackberry patch.

  • by NewWorldDan (899800) <dan@gen-tracker.com> on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:36PM (#29517185) Homepage Journal
    The problem is that we need liquid biofuels. Ethanol production is just not going to happen. The first step in production is fermentation and that wastes 40% of your source energy. Then purification requires a lot of energy. At least with biodiesel, all you're doing is splitting off a glycerol molecule. But then, what do you do with all that glycerol? Back to point, ethanol - not very useful. Let's see if Monsanto can bio-engineer this thing to grow big oily pods.
  • Re:I live in Alabama (Score:3, Informative)

    by Entropius (188861) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:17PM (#29517965)

    I lived in Alabama (Huntsville) for over 20 years, and it's not as bad as you describe. Sure, stuff grows well there, but it's not as though you can't use the roads because of the deer and you can't open your doors for fear of roaches and yellowjackets.

    The only real threatening endemic species is rednecks.

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @06:02PM (#29522795) Homepage

    Mr. Lovett puts on his cap and heads out to his 2006 pickup, which has 188,000 miles on it

    To save you looking at the slideshow, yes, of course it's a Toyota.

Truly simple systems... require infinite testing. -- Norman Augustine

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