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Summer 2011

Urban Jungle

The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark      

September 13, 2011

Goose grass: A county tough comes to town

A cropland pest is also the city's toughest weed, holding its own even when growing from the crack of a heavily trafficked sidewalk or parking spot.

Even where it isn't being trampled, goose grass grows flat to the ground, its pale silvery stems forming a coarse starburst that can duck the lowest of lawn mower blades.

If a hoe doesn't get to it first, the grass will meet its match when freezing temperatures knock it out. But by then the weed's zipper-shaped spikelets will have dropped hundreds of tiny, dark-brown seeds. Those will sprout best late next spring on the sun-drenched surfaces of compacted city soils and country croplands, where goose grass is developing resistance to a growing number of herbicides.

Although goose grass is one of the world's worst agricultural weeds, its measly seeds can become a grain of last resort during a famine. If enough seeds are gathered — from plants growing in uncontaminated soil — they can be boiled whole or ground into flour for making cakes or gruel.

SOURCES: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, Weed Science, Pest Management Science, naturalmedicinalherbs.net

Indian goose grass, Eleusine indica.