Invasive, non-native grasses overwhelm Kentucky's forests

RED RIVER GORGE, Ky. — Miscanthus sinensis is one of the worst offenders.

It takes advantage of our nourishing climate, and repays the kindness by smothering the locals.

The ornamental grass, which also goes by the alias Chinese silverplume, was planted at Natural Bridge State Resort Park in the 1930s, but it soon escaped and now is at large in the state.

It was one of the priority targets listed by the Forest Service last week when the agency asked for input on a proposed war on weeds in the Daniel Boone National Forest.

The 700,000-acre forest "is facing an ecological crisis," as native species are crowded out by the foreigners, the agency said.

The Forest Service plan calls for treating as many as 1,400 acres a year by various means, but actual numbers will depend on how much money is appropriated each year for the work. The proposal contains no cost estimates.

There have been efforts to combat invasive exotic plants in Lexington parks, at the Arboretum on Alumni Drive and in state parks and nature preserves. But the effort at Daniel Boone, which covers portions of 21 counties, has the potential to be the largest attempt so far to take back acreage for native species or at least stop the spread of exotics.

"Every acre lost to these invaders is a loss not only to our native plant species' diversity, but also displaces wildlife food sources and habitats," the Forest Service said.

More than 70 species are causing problems, the Forest Service said. Most of the offending weeds came here from Asia or Europe. They spread rapidly because they left behind whatever diseases or insects kept them in check back home.

The best-known invasive is kudzu. It can be found in the Boone, but it's not among the worst invaders.

The agency proposes to get rid of weeds by pulling, mowing, burning or spraying them with herbicides.

It issued a report asking for comments from the public. If the proposal is approved, work could begin next June.