A headache for South Carolina farmers is lurking by a guardrail along U.S. Route 52 just outside of Moncks Corner.
Itchgrass, an annual tropical grass that both the state and federal governments classify as a noxious weed, has been found for the first time in South Carolina. Itchgrass can spread quickly and, if not controlled, aggressively colonize farm fields and pastures.
South Carolina is the ninth state to report the grass which can literally be a pain to remove. That's because hair-like growths on the plant can cause irritating itching on the skin if you try to pull it out. And that's where the plant gets its common name.
John Nelson, the curator of the University of South Carolina A. C. Moore Herbarium in Columbia said the itchgrass in Berkeley County outside Moncks Corner was spotted in October by a fellow scientist from Mississippi who was on vacation.
Mississippi is one of the states where itchgrass has been reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The others include Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and Indiana.
"The potential is we could have infestations in other parts of the state. There's already the potential the seeds have been carried away," Nelson said, adding the grass probably ended up by the roadside because the seeds were carried there by a vehicle.
Nelson said itchgrass is thought to have originated in areas of Southeast Asia and spread around the globe.
"The climate is changing so it's likely more northern localities could be in its future," he added.
Christel Harden, the assistant department head for Clemson University's Plant Pest Detection and Nursery Certification Programs said that program representatives have been to the itchgrass site in Berkeley County. She said Clemson is working with the state Department of Transportation, which would be responsible for managing the weed on its property.
She said the site has been marked and because it's an annual grass, Clemson staffers will return in the spring to see if there are any other patches. Then they will treat them with a herbicide.
"We hope if we treat it initially that if it does not eradicate it completely, we will at least have it back to a smaller area where the highway department won't have a huge problem taking care of it," she said.
Clemson will then monitor the area several times a year to check on the status of the weed.
Harden also said there could be other patches in the state that have not been identified because itchgrass can be hard to spot. "It looks an awful lot like another common weed we have called Johnson grass," she said.
Keeping weeds like itchgrass from spreading can be problematical.
"It has seeds and they can be spread by wind, they can attach themselves to vehicles or people or animal fur," she said. "Weeds are really hard to contain in an area if you don't cut them down before they flower."