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Master Gardener Journal  


N E O P H Y T E   N O O K



Invasive Plant Notes

by Mike Mekelburg,
Master Gardener


Biologist Curt McCasland of Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge near Ajo, Arizona, is a walking infomercial against in-vasive plants of the Sonoran Desert. Two of his favorite targets are fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) and buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare).

Fountain grass is an ornamental often used in residential landscapes. Native to Africa and the Middle East, it produces many fluffy seeds on a long seed stalk. Seeds are dispersed by wind, water, wildlife, and vehicles, and can easily establish in the smallest places such as cracks in streets and sidewalks, and on rocky slopes. In a few short years they can choke out native species and become a fire hazard that "pull" a fire through an otherwise fire-resistant desert.

Buffelgrass was introduced into the southwest as a pasture grass in the early 1900s. Like fountain grass, its seeds spread easily and it is now common along roadsides, in parking lots, and in native desert areas. It is considered one of the most seriously invasive plants of the Sonoran Desert.

How can the average homeowner help? First, don't buy these plants at nurseries or yard sales. If they are already in or around your yard, pull the plants up before they develop seed stalks. For larger specimens, a few hefty blows with a pick to the base of the plant should be effective. Resprouting can occur for several years, so keep an eye out for new volunteers.

McCasland has compiled a short list of substitute plants with similar textures. These include several species of Muhlenbergia, bear grass and desert spoon (Nolina and Dasylirion spp). There is also a purple variety of fountain grass that is believed to be sterile.


Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated October 4, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to Maricopa-hort@ag.arizona.edu 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092