And we’re back people! This blog is still happening. Much like invasives spread in bursts, so do the posts on this blog. Our content comes suddenly and in large numbers.
Some of you may have noticed this blog is biased. We have repeatedly ignored a top invasive group, Plants! Purposely or not, agricultural practices have had a long history of spreading plants (animals and insects too!) and then dealing with the consequences.
Today’s featured species, Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) is a plant that was introduced for agriculture and then turned out to be invasive. OOPS!
Buffelgrass is native to eastern Africa and Asia but now, it is invasive throughout the world. We can get a feel for how far the problem reaches thanks to Dr. Victoria Marshall’s map.
In Australia and Arizona, the drought tolerant Buffel grass was introduced to prevent soil erosion and to feed cattle. As it turns out, this grass makes for amazing cow food, growing over and over after being eaten by the bovines. For a long time, this was working out great for farmers but then, Buffel grass escaped the cow pens.
The grass began multiplying like wild fire around areas of un-natural disturbances like the sides of roads. The edge of roads became prime-real estate for the grass, which used those paths to spread.
In the Arizonan desert, good intentions have led to fiery consequences.
Buffelgrass ignites and sustains hotter fires than native plants, like the cartoonish Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), can handle.
In some places in the Sonoran dessert, the grass has completely changed the landscape.
The Roadrunner and Coyote-esk deserts-capes that have made the Saguaro’s shape iconic, could become at risk of disappearing because of this new combustible neighbor.
The Saguaro cactus is not only part of our childhood memories, but a pillar in the culture of the people who call the Sonoran desert home. To the people of the Tohono O’odham Nation this cactus’s fruit is central to rain ceremonies, and as a consequence their agricultural practices. I first learned about the role of the Saguaro for the Tohono O’odham Nation from Tohono O’odham community college undergraduate, Ulrick Francisco who was doing research on Buffel grass. In an interview you’ll have to wait until the next post for, Ulrick talked to me about the effects of the Buffel grass on the culturally important Saguaro.
The fires caused by Buffel grass are also problematic for Arizonan homeowners on the grass’ turf. Their homes are in great danger of going up in flames, putting their lives at risk.
Efforts are being made by Arizonians to remove the grass, but for the most part it has to be done manually in a slow moving process.
Just like this grass, there are many other invasive species that are harder –at times impossible– to remove than to prevent. It’s all about prevention, stop invasives before they start.
Links for more info on Buffel grass
A contribution from Christina De Jesús.