They might have saved large swaths of Texas from blowing away during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, but today they’re unwelcome tenants—interlopers from another time and place.
Two types of grass, one originally from China and the other from South Africa, are taking over the southeastern part of the state. Known, respectively, as King Ranch bluestem and Kleberg bluestem, they were once widely planted to stop erosion on ranches and roadsides. They’re both hardy species whose seeds travel on the wind and whose growth crowds out native grasses. That’s a problem, today’s ranchers say, because little else now grows on grazing lands, and the two bluestems offer little in the way of nutrition for cattle; one Texas A&M extension agent in this article compares them to cardboard.
Now ranchers are spending lots of time and money to try to get rid of the two bluestems—plowing them under, burning them, and finally applying expensive herbicides. The herbicides work, although using them means destroying everything in the field and starting over.
“It’s not like they can go to the cattle auction barn and charge more for their calves just because they paid more to produce [them],” notes the extension agent. “‘OK, I had to spray more for this grass; now I’m going to charge 10 cents extra per pound for my beef.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
Even a successfully treated field, freed from bluestem and planted with more nutritious native plants, is good only until the wind blows bluestem seed back onto the land. Some are hopeful that a bluestem-specific herbicide can be developed, but it’s a long way off and would require more investment in research than many chemical companies are willing to invest.
Have you tackled the job of removing a non-native plant from an environment where it’s outcompeting its neighbors? What other strategies would you suggest?