Simply take a quick drive anywhere in this area and you’ll find a rather large patch or field full of a particularly tall grass called giant reed, also known as Arundo donax. Whether you notice or not, it is growing prolifically and leaving its mark on Central Texas as well as all over the state.
Arundo donax is thought to have originated in Asia and the Mediterranean region. Grown mostly for use in making reeds for musical instruments, it now inhabits most continents. It was brought to the United States in the early 1820s to aid California with erosion control. It’s spread over most of the southern U.S., costing states a great deal of money trying to rid it from private property and public waterways.
Texas has listed Arundo donax as a “noxious plant,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It likes moist soils and can grow between 12 and 20 feet high. It is very difficult to suppress once it gets rooted since it spreads, not by the seeds it produces, but using a network of rhizomes and tap roots. Simply cutting it down can spread it. It isn’t impossible to get rid of, but it is a long, drawn-out process of cutting and tilling, being careful to remove all pieces and parts.
Believe it or not, Arundo donax is for sale online. Some folks love the tall, green foliage and many use it as a wind break/living fence-type barrier. Very recently, the EPA and the FDA approved the use of Arundo donax as a crop for use in biofuel production. Because it is so fast-growing, not particular about soils or climate and meets the standards for reduced greenhouse gas emissions, they felt it would be a perfect ingredient for cellulosic ethanol. Many environmental agencies tried to discourage the use of this plant, stating the risk of it growing and spreading out of control would eventually cost the country more money to eradicate it than it was worth as an ingredient in biofuel.
Darla Menking is a certified Bell County Texas Master Gardener and a Texas Master Naturalist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.