Cogongrass is an aggressive, rhizomatous, perennial grass that is distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It has become established in the southeastern United States within the last fifty years, with Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida having extensive acreage of roadway and pasture infested with cogongrass. Cogongrass first appeared in the area around Grand Bay, Alabama as an escape from Satsuma orange crate packing in 1912. It was intentionally introduced from the Philippines into Mississippi as a possible forage in 1921. Cogongrass was introduced into Florida in the 1930s and 1940s as a potential forage and for soil stabilization purposes.
Cogongrass is a perennial grass that varies greatly in appearance. The leaves appear light green, with older leaves becoming orange-brown in color. In areas with killing frosts, the leaves will turn light brown during winter months and present a substantial fire hazard. Cogongrass grows in loose to compact bunches, each 'bunch' containing several leaves arising from a central area along a rhizome. The leaves originate directly from ground level and range from one to four feet in length. Each leaf is 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch wide with a prominent, off-center, white mid-rib. The leaf margins are finely serrated; contributing to the undesirable forage qualities of this grass. Seed production predominately occurs in the spring, with long, fluffy-white seedheads. Mowing, burning or fertilization can also induce sporadic seedhead formation. Seeds are extremely small and attached to a plume of long hairs. Although the seeds can be carried long distances by wind and animals, the spread of cogongrass by seed is questionable and still under investigation.
Cogongrass is native to southeast Asia and infests nearly 500 million acres of plantation and agricultural land worldwide. It is found on every continent, although it does not tolerate cool temperatures. In the United States, cogongrass extends as far north as South Carolina and west to Texas. In Florida, cogongrass infests ditch banks, pastures, road sides/right-of-ways, golf courses, and forests. In central Florida, monocultures of cogongrass have become established on hundreds of acres of reclaimed phosphate mining areas. Cogongrass thrives on fine sand to heavy clay and does well on soils of low fertility. Attempts at finding natural pests of cogongrass have met with limited success.
Extensive research has been conducted in Africa, southeast Asia and the United States for the control of cogongrass. Burning, cultivation, cover crops, and herbicides have been used with varying degrees of effectiveness. To eliminate cogongrass, the rhizomes must be destroyed to avoid regrowth. Cultivation and herbicides have been the two control strategies used most often. One of the oldest and most successful methods is to deep plow or disk several times during the dry season to desiccate the rhizomes and exhaust the food reserves. It is essential to cut to a depth of at least 6 inches to ensure that most, if not all the rhizomes have been cut. Results from these practices are evident when observing cogongrass growing up to the edge of a cultivated field with no evidence of spread into the field itself.
The use of herbicides for control of cogongrass began in the 1940s. Today, only a few of the hundreds of herbicides tested are effective against cogongrass. In non-crop areas such as rights-of-way and fence rows, the so-called soil sterilants such as prometon (Pramitol), tebuthiuron (Spike), and imazapyr (Arsenal) will give excellent control; however, areas treated with these materials will be free of any vegetation for 6 months to a year. Often these conditions promote erosion and are unacceptable.