Plant Experts Combat Dangerous Weed
Enloe works to save southeastern forests from infestation
Move over, kudzu. In terms of invasive plants, there’s a new bad boy in town: cogongrass.
Cogongrass first escaped from Satsuma orange crates imported to southern Alabama in 1912. It takes over fields and forests, ruins crops, and destroys native ecosystems. Its serrated leaves and grainy composition mean that even goats won’t eat it. Cogongrass is resistant to herbicides, and though it burns at over 800 degrees, it’s fire tolerant and rebounds vigorously. Now a team of Auburn scientists has received a grant to look for links between the spread of cogongrass and the decline of valuable pine forests.
Forestry is Alabama’s number-one industry, and loblolly pines account for 36 percent of Alabama’s 22.7 million acres in timberland. In recent decades, however, the health of many loblolly pine forests across the Deep South has declined. A comparison of the roots of symptomatic trees with those of healthy pines shows higher numbers of invasive, root-feeding pine beetles and infection with pathogenic fungi. Invasive plant specialist Stephen Enloe and his team suspect cogongrass may be to blame.
“We know that cogongrass and the increased risk of intense fires it presents, play havoc on a forest ecosystem’s natural vegetation; but no one has looked at whether there’s a cascading effect on the species and populations of insects,” says Enloe. “Our top goal is to find out how cogongrass infestations alter insect diversity and abundance in those pine forests showing symptoms of decline, especially the insects that are vectors of the fungi associated with the syndrome.”
Dr. Stephen F. Enloe
My appointment is 70% extension, 30% research. My extension program focuses on training land managers in invasive plant identification, management, and restoration. I strongly emphasize Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR) to prevent new invasions. I am also very interested in the social elements of invasive plants and the role of cooperative weed management areas (Gunderson et al. 2008).