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Mississippi's top 10 invasive weeds

By By Steve Strong / county agent
June 5, 2002
Late night shows are not the only ones with a top 10 list.
Mississippi State University Extension Service recently published Mississippi's 10 Worst Invasive Weeds, a list of plants considered to be a major threat to our state's natural heritage and biological diversity.
With assistance from the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Nature Conservancy, and other agencies, MSU chose a group of plants responsible for thousands of acres of lost native habitat. These weed species can dominate a landscape in a short time (wetlands, riparian forests, grassland prairies), and take over entire ecosystems if left unchecked.
Commonly called "exotic" species, most of our invasive weeds originated in another country and do not naturally occur here. Ironically, many of these plants were actually brought to North America for helpful purposes, while others simply sprang up by accident (kinda like fireants).
Invasive exotics are vigorous growers, able to out-compete native species for growing space, and able to spread to new areas with little resistance. Many exotics are easily spread through seed (by birds and other wildlife), making these weeds even harder to control.
The economic impact of invasive weed control is tremendous, both on public and private lands. Kudzu is probably the most visible example, invading thousands of acres of forest lands, pastures, and backyard lawns.
Nine other exotics also threaten Mississippi waterways and woodlands alligator weed, water hyacinth, Chinese tallow tree (Popcorn tree), Chinese privet, Japanese honeysuckle, cogongrass, Johnsongrass, tropical soda apple, and purple loose strife. For landowners wanting to control exotic weed invasion and restore native habitat, learning how to identify these plant pests is the first step.
Stop by your county Extension Service office for the free publication #M1194, complete with photos and descriptions of Mississippi's 10 Worst Invasive Weeds. More information is available at the MSU Web site www.msucares.com (or call 482-9764).
The biggest challenge with exotic weed control is realizing that the invasion is already so widespread that we will never again get the problem under control. The good news is, there are mechanical and chemical methods to manage some of the weed problems, and researchers are constantly developing new strategies.
At a recent state conference addressing exotic weed invasion, bird researcher and good friend Bill Fontenot probably put it best when he said, "Choose your battles wisely, cause you're not gonna win em all." In some cases, public support may even be lacking to support a proposed weed control program.
Crawfish trappers in south Mississippi and Louisiana will tell you there is no better shady plant cover for their crop (of crawdads) than a floating mat of water hyacinth. Bird lovers in those same watersheds will testify to the dependence of over two dozen migratory bird species on plants with winter fruit-like the Chinese tallow tree.
Deer hunters throughout the state will go so far as to plant extra Japanese honeysuckle around their food plots, just to provide more forage plants for winter survival. Even kudzu, the plant that ate the south, can provide as much forage protein as alfalfa if harvested and processed properly.
If you can't beat them-eat them, obviously does not work for all invasive exotics. But becoming more aware of native habitat loss and the need for biodiversity can help us understand the big picture, and the role that humans play as potential stewards of the environment.

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