EDITOR’S NOTE: A related photo is on page five.
One of the worst but not widely recognized invasive plant species in Wilkes County is Japanese stiltgrass.
This non-native summer annual is relatively new on the scene and is rapidly spreading.
Also called bamboo grass due to the appearance of its leaves, stiltgrass can form dense monotypic (one species) stands within three to five years on fertile and moist sites.
It easily takes over lawns that lack a healthy stand of desirable grass.
Stiltgrass is only a few inches tall this time of year, but it can reach 2-3 feet in height by the end of the summer if left unchecked.
It therefore chokes out tree seedlings and other native plants growing close to the ground.
The adverse impact continues with thick brown mats blanketing the ground after it dies in the fall.
Stiltgrass also harms native plants by altering the soil pH.
While outcompeting native plants that are important as food and cover for deer and other wildlife species, stiltgrass isn’t a desirable food to these animals and this gives it even more of a competitive advantage.
It is especially problematic in a forest without thick tree canopy because the grass is relatively shade tolerant, but it also is less prosperous in full sunlight.
It’s impossible to see where (and on what) you’re stepping when walking through an area of the woods where this Asian invader is well-established.
Stiltgrass often grows in company with invasive trees like tree of heaven and shrubs like multi-flora rose or privet in Wilkes.
It has been known to even outcompete kudzu when taller plants for the vine to climb aren’t present.
Like many invasive species, stiltgrass grows and spreads rapidly in sites where the soil has been disturbed. Examples include old logging roads and abandoned orchards.
Also common to invasives, it has abundant seed propagation within one season and shallow roots.
Each plant can produce up to 1,000 seeds from both self-fertilizing and cross-fertilizing flowers.
The seeds are easily spread and can stay viable for up to five years.
The plant is believed to have arrived in this country from being used as packing material for goods shipped from China.
It is native to China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and India.
First reported in Tennessee around 1918, it now is established from New Hampshire south to Florida, west to Texas and north to Iowa
Early control of new infestations and preventing the drop of viable seed are critical for preventing the establishment and spread of the plant. Expect years of eradication work to remove well established stands.
Large populations of stiltgrsss likely require herbicide treatment. Herbicides with the active ingredient, glyphosate, are among those mentioned for controlling stiltgrass.
Mowing plants just before flowering cuts off the buds before seeds mature, but this often needs to be done for years to eradicate them.
Similarly, weed eating can be effective, but constant mowing causes stiltgrass to grow at a lower height but still set seed.
If you’ve got the time and the back, stiltgrass is easily uprooted by hand and this is most practical with small populations.