Mar 27, 2023 - News

Researchers say grass wages chemical warfare

University of Texas researchers conducting work on Guinea grass, pictured at right. Photo courtesy UT.

An invasive grass that is showing up in Austin wages a chemical campaign to push out native species, per new research from the University of Texas.

The big picture: Guinea grass, introduced more than a century ago to South Texas from Africa to help feed cattle, uses a combination of crowding that blocks out light from growing seedlings and what amounts to chemical warfare in creating soil that is toxic to native plants, per a new study in the journal Ecosphere.

Why it matters: The grass raises the risk of more frequent, high-intensity wildfires.

Details: Guinea grass toxins include 2-hydroxyphenylacetic acid, used by plants to suppress their competitors.

What they're saying: "Guinea grass escaped its natural enemies and stressors in Africa," said Robert Plowes, a research scientist and author on the paper. "Its seeds are also very good at sticking to trucks, ranch equipment and roadside mowers, so it spreads easily."

What we're watching: The researchers, who conducted work in Austin's Brackenridge Field Laboratory, are studying whether the grass can be kept in check with soil restoration and other old-school methods of range management.


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