Photo by James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
The NWTF is in the fight to keep giant cane from destroying turkey habitat.
This bamboo-like perennial grass is one of the largest, fastest growing and aggressive herbaceous grasses in North America
If Godzilla were a grass, he would most certainly be the giant cane (Arundo donax). This non-native invader can grow to 30 feet tall and form dense stands of an expanding, impenetrable wall of canes that easily overpowers riparian habitats and irrigation canals across the southwestern United States. In Texas, this monster of a weed has been harming, and at times annihilating, riparian function and habitat across the state.
“Look at the Rio Grande, where in places all other riparian plants have been dislocated in favor of this persistent invader,” said Sky Jones-Lewey, resource protection and education director with the Nueces River Authority in Uvalde, Texas. “Arundo eliminates habitat for fish, wildlife and birds, flattens stream channels, diverts and transpires flows, changes the water chemistry and ruins the value of riparian areas.”
Partners in crime
Classified as a noxious weed in Texas, giant cane was first reported in 1996 on the Nueces River headwaters in the Montell area. Since then, this rapid grower has been quietly colonizing rivers and creeks across the state, especially in the southern region. Part of the reason is that the plants can spread via underground rhizomes or stem fragments. Any small piece of the plant material can easily take root, sprout and grow two feet or more per week, reaching 25 feet tall in one season.
Giant cane is being spread by disturbance, which typically comes from wild hog rootings, nutria (Myocastor coypus) cuttings and humans dislodging segments of the stalk that float and sprout in a matter of days. Giant cane parts are also hitching rides in soils, gravel and on equipment.
“At the same time native riparian habitat is degraded or destroyed, habitat for invasive naturalized animals like wild hogs and nutria is increased, which increases the spread of Arundo,” said Gene Miller, NWTF regional biologist for west Texas and Oklahoma.
Common control methods prove ineffective in getting rid of this noxious weed. Burning and grazing stimulate root production. Repeated mowing encourages spreading.
Gaining a foothold
Through collaboration with the Nueces River Authority and other funding contributors, the NWTF has joined efforts in eradicating this destructive weed.
In 2012, the NWTF Texas State Chapter contributed $5,000 of their Super Fund dollars in collaboration with Nueces River Authority, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s Aquatic Invasive Program, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board and other contributors to a private land project to remove and control giant cane. Private sector and foundation contributions are often leveraged with government funds at a ratio of 3 to 1.
The Pull - Kill - Plant program is geared toward controlling giant cane along with riparian restoration in the Nueces Basin and focuses on pulling cut stalks and new sprouts, target-specific herbicide application on individual Arundo clumps, and using the protected nursery of dead Arundo clumps to cultivate native plants.
Arundo plants die over a one- to two-year period. These dead clumps are surrounded by brittle pointy stalks that create a protected nursery for more desirable plants, such as the native black willow (Salix nigra) and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum).
On the horizon
The Pull - Kill - Plant program has cost about $300,000 to date, with about 85 miles of stream under treatment (approximately 280 acres of Arundo) and 250 landowners participating.
“It could easily cost another $200,000 to keep it under control for the next five to 10 years,” Jones-Lewey said. — Kris Wetherbee