New species of invasive grass found by botanists in Wisconsin

    invasive species of grass
    Japanese stilt grass - an invasive species Photo credit: Barbara via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

    Botanists working with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have identified a new species of invasive grass in Wisconsin. Research is ongoing to determine whether the plants found are actually Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum), or if it’s simply a look alike. Thus far, the plants are contained in the Coulee Experimental State Forest in La Crosse County.

    “We were very fortunate the Japanese stilt grass was spotted early by a person familiar with the plant and who knew how to report it,” said DNR invasive plant specialist Kelly Kearns. “As a result, we were able to get out there and get on it. This was a textbook example of early detection and control, and why citizen reports of invasive species are so important.”

    Japanese stilt grass (Photo by: John Randall, courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources)
    Japanese stilt grass (Photo by: John Randall, courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources)

    Japanese stilt grass is noted as being highly aggressive which produces seed in just one year. That allows the grass to grow quickly in a mat-like pattern throughout the shaded forests, its preferred habitats. In doing so, the invasive species chokes out native plants, can harm wildlife, and ultimately affect the health of nearby trees. According to a DNR press release, patches of the grass are also able to produce a flammable fuel source, which feeds forest fires.

    Amanda Weise, a botanist from the University of Minnesota, was volunteering for the DNR’s Rare Plant Monitoring Program when she happened upon the find. As a native of New England, Weise was familiar with the stilt grass. She took samples and pictures, and checked on lists of invasive plant species in the state. When she was unable to find any verified reports of Japanese stilt grass in the Badger State, she submitted a report to EDDMaps, an app which tracks invasive plants.

    This species of grass has been found in all U.S. states east and south of Wisconsin, except for Maine. It’s listed as a prohibited species in Wisconsin, and control efforts are in place to enforce the buying, selling, and transport of the grass.

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.