Wavyleaf menace: A culprit in the ‘rambunctious garden’

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Wavyleaf grass has flat leaf blades, about 0.5 to 1 inch wide and 1.5 to 4 inches long—deep green with rippling waves across the grass blades from base to tip, according to a state fact sheet. Photo courtesy of Kevin Heffernan Wavyleaf grass has flat leaf blades, about 0.5 to 1 inch wide and 1.5 to 4 inches long—deep green with rippling waves across the grass blades from base to tip, according to a state fact sheet. Photo courtesy of Kevin Heffernan

By Mary Jane Gore

Of all of the invasive plant species in Virginia, a new one has risen to No. 1, according to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation in Richmond.

Wavyleaf grass was introduced in Virginia only in the past 15 years, with its earliest spotting in Shenandoah National Park, says Kevin Heffernan, stewardship biologist with the DCR. This Russian/Eurasian plant “spreads rapidly and covers forest floors in deep shade.”

To date, the plant has been found in more than 60 sites in 17 Virginia counties, including Albemarle and Nelson. According to Heffernan, the yet unopened Williams Woods Natural Preserve in Albemarle has 200 acres covered with wavyleaf grass out of 400 total.

“The wavyleaf grass has outcompeted most other ground-layer species,” Heffernan says.

Robust growth over time could suppress tree and shrub seedlings, he says. “Long term it will alter forest structure.”

If you love trilliums or Virginia beauties, forest floor flower species or herbs, the growth of wavyleaf grass will impact your future viewing. Fewer overstory trees will grow and they will slowly die out. Species that can push through the wavyleaf cover are often invasive species like Tree of Heaven or weedy, common trees like red maple, Heffernan says.

The plant is vigorous and its seeds are highly viable. Professor Vanessa Beauchamp, an associate professor of biological sciences at Towson University in Maryland, ran her dog through a patch of the grass for 30 seconds in an experiment. Students working with her counted 12,000 seeds adhering to the dog’s fur, Heffernan says. The grass gives off a sticky substance that helps seeds adhere to surfaces.

“The U.S. Forest Service is very concerned,” Heffernan says. Agencies and groups that could help “don’t have a lot of money to throw at a suddenly appearing and seemingly high-threat species.”

Heffernan says the DCR is working to generate awareness and action among everyone in the state, and that the solution will involve land managers, but also landowners. Citizens are encouraged to help weed any wavyleaf grass from the “rambunctious garden,” a nickname among botanists and others for the earth.

To get rid of the plant, you may be able to pull it up by the roots if there are only a few. A larger area may need a chemical herbicide, Heffernan says.

Do your part

If you think you have spotted wavyleaf grass or another plant that may be invasive, you can report it at websites such as eddmaps.org. Free registration is required to make a report and use the app, called Mid-Atlantic Early Detection Network. Submit a close-up photo showing the leaf and stem using a form at vainvasivespecies.org/report-sightings. If you can, enable GPS for the exact location data.

“We also appreciate having an estimate of the size of the area that wavyleaf is infesting,” says Kevin Heffernan, stewardship biologist with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

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