KXAN Austin

Invasive grass has reached Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin is in the middle of an invasion. Grasses that aren’t native to Central Texas are taking over.

“We don’t know how far it’ll go, but we know where it establishes and spreads it becomes a real negative to biodiversity in that area,” said Aaron Rhodes, Research Associate at UT Austin’s Brackenridge Field Lab.

Scientists said there are increasingly concerned that an invasive species of grass, known as Guinea grass, is taking over Texas.

“Guinea grass outcompetes, not only native grasses but native plants in general because it doesn’t have its natural enemies that feed on it,” added Rhodes.

Foreign grasses were brought over from Africa intentionally centuries ago to feed cattle, but beginning in the mid-20th century Guinea grass started showing up in south Texas.

And within the last five years, it’s made it here to Austin.

Guinea grass primarily spreads by seed. Washing your car if you travel, your boots if you’re hiking, and your lawn care equipment, if you have a landscaping company, can help to contain its migration.

There is a scientific plan to prevent the spread. It involves bringing over insects from Africa with specific traits.

“If it turns out that they are only eating Guinea grass, and they’re not affecting other aspects of food chains, then we make a petition to use these insects [and] release them in nature to self-control Guinea grass,” said Colin Morrison, Postdoctoral fellow at the lab.

And from there a targeted approach to prevent guinea grass spreading northward.

“They will release those insects to combat it at the front of its spread, but also to begin to push it back into the areas where it’s well established,” said Morrison.

He hopes deployment can begin within five years.