[fosc] Invasive Grass in Menlo Park

Karen Paulsell kpaulsell at pacbell.net
Wed Jan 4 21:33:30 PST 2006

This stuff sounds worse than Ehrharta! Below is an article from the SJ 
Mercury News; followed by some useful links if you want to know more.


Grassy invaders threaten redwoods

By Elise Ackerman
Mercury News

The slender grass growing in Woodside's Thornewood
Open Space Preserve first caught the attention of the
local botanist because it was so pretty and graceful.

Always on the lookout for new native plants to
nurture, Jim Johnson took a bunch and planted it at
the foot of El Palo Alto -- the city of Palo Alto's
namesake redwood. The grass flourished, quadrupling in
size and shooting up 1 1/2 feet.

In hindsight, this was perhaps the first sign that
something was amiss. Home-grown California grass does
not normally thrive in the shade of stately redwoods.

The bright-green plant, commonly known as slender
false brome, turned out not to be native at all.
Instead, it was a fiercely aggressive alien invader
that had already taken over thousands of acres of
Douglas fir forests in Oregon.

During the past two years, fighting the spread of
Brachypodium sylvaticum has become one of the top
priorities of Bay Area conservationists.

``It could spread in California, in our redwood
forests, just like it has in Oregon,'' said Cindy
Roessler, a biologist with the Midpeninsula Regional
Open Space District who got a call from Johnson soon
after he identified -- and killed -- the plant he'd
introduced to El Palo Alto two years ago.

The district manages the 163-acre redwood preserve
where the grass was discovered. Besides the preserve
and the residential neighborhood that borders it,
false brome has been spotted in isolated patches along
Santa Cruz mountain roads. So far, it has not been
spotted anywhere else in the state.

Last month the district's board of directors agreed to
spend $1.2 million during the next 10 years in hopes
of eradicating false brome from California. ``The
problem with this grass is it's a forest-eating
grass,'' said Deane Little, a board member.

Compared with Oregon, the California infestation is
small. Within the preserve, it covers an estimated 40
acres of public land. Outside the preserve it is
believed to cover 25 to 45 acres of private land.

``We have a fighting chance,'' said Roessler, who has
been spearheading the district's efforts. Roessler
said when Oregon ecologists learned false brome had
been discovered outside of their state, they urged
California to take immediate action and warned: ``You
are going to have it everywhere.''

In Oregon, false brome covers meadows and forest
floors like an emerald blanket, smothering native
flora and fauna. At least one butterfly species had
become extinct and another is threatened because its
habitat is being destroyed. False brome also appears
to inhibit the growth of young Douglas fir seedlings,
hindering reforestation.

The grass, which comes from North Africa and Eurasia,
was first identified in Oregon in 1939. By 1966, two
large colonies were flourishing near Corvallis, Ore.
Widespread eradication efforts did not get under way
until the 1990s.

``People all of a sudden realized it was everywhere,''
said Cindy McCain, an ecologist with the U.S. Forest
Service. By then it was too late.

The grass seeds had dispersed throughout the
Willamette Valley and the Cascades. Small and sticky,
they clung to clothing, vehicles and equipment,
traveling up the Pacific coast and into northern and
southern Oregon.

One small patch begot another. All the park rangers,
timber executives, environmentalists and other false
brome battlers could do was try to contain its spread.
They could no longer get rid of it.

Plant experts say false brome demonstrates amazing
adaptability. It thrives in the sunlight or shade, on
dry prairies and in rain-soaked forests. It survives
burning and will regenerate after being pulled up if
roots are left in the soil.

It is unclear how false brome was introduced to
California. Researchers believe it might have been
present in the Thornewood preserve for as long as 10
years before Johnson came across it. The official
stream keeper for the San Francisquito Creek, which
divides Menlo Park and Palo Alto, Johnson sounded the
alarm as soon as he learned the plant's true identity.

Roessler said California's best hope is to kill the
plant with an herbicide like Roundup before it gains a
foothold in nearby redwood forests. The Midpeninsula
Regional Open Space District has twice sprayed the 40
acres in the preserve that are infested. Caltrans has
also sprayed along Highway 84.

But false brome continues to sprout luxuriantly on
private properties in Woodside. ``We can never
completely eliminate it off of our preserves as long
as it's in the neighborhood,'' Roessler said.

The district has tried to persuade property owners to
join the battle. During the past two years, it posted
notices and worked with the San Mateo Weed Management
Area to hold a neighborhood meeting.

In response, some people weeded their entire property.
Others insisted that false brome did not pose any kind
of threat. ``That little grass doesn't do much,'' said
Joseph Androlowicz, who lives along Grandview Drive.

Roessler said the district will pay for a contractor
to remove false brome from private property, but it
first needs permission from the owners. She
acknowledged that it is hard to imagine a little patch
of grass threatening the existence of centuries-old

``You have to look underneath the surface, at the soil
and all the little creatures that are there,'' she
said. ``Here is this grass, it's spreading on its own,
and it's changing the forest. To me, that's scary.''
Contact Elise Ackerman at eackerman at mercurynews.com or
(408) 271-3774.

This web page includes links to Cal-IPC info, including hi-res images of 
the weed and an ID sheet:


A website by the research group in Oregon:

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