My dogs were following me out to the kennel for their breakfast. They usually race ahead of me and wait for the bowls to be put down. But today, they hesitated, then proceeded to walk in a wide arc around the lawn. They took mincing steps from sandy spot to sandy spot, avoiding the vegetation. What was it about the lawn that they didn’t like?
I say “lawn,” but it is really a “country lawn”: just closely mown grasses and weeds. This kind of lawn allows us to easily access the driveway, the kennel, and various outbuildings. I would never call it manicured, but it is fairly neat for a yard. However, something about this patch of vegetation was repellant to my dogs.
By the way, these dogs are “country dogs.” They run across the pasture on three legs, stopping only when they can’t stand it any longer to extract stickers from their paws. So, why were they acting so prissy about the yard?
Looking down, I noticed that most of the mown area had round-leafed, low-growing plants in it. There were very few actual grasses. This low-growing plant was making a dense mat across the ground. It had small, tan-colored starburst flowers. I photographed it and sent it to iNaturalist for identification.
The app tentatively identified the plant as Creeping Chaffweed (Alternanthera pungens). A Google search yielded the following information: “Khakiweed (also known as creeping chaffweed or mat chaff-flower) is an invasive weed, poisonous to livestock, and is considered one of the biggest turfgrass concerns in the southwest. The weed grows in patches flat to the ground and produces an abundance of prickly, light-colored seeds.” Oh, no! How awful!
Khakiweed originated in South America (and possibly Central America) but has been introduced in Australia and South Africa. It is widely established on those two continents, and it is now getting a foothold in North America. Khakiweed has been reported from eight states, plus Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Its preferred habitats are lawns, waste places, and limestone areas. AmericanLawns.com says, “The plant is extremely drought-resistant with a deep taproot that will regenerate the entire plant if only a small portion remains in the soil.” Uh-oh. This weed is going to love South Texas.
How did it get here? It is possible that it was a contaminant in seed mixes initially. And once in an area, it propagates itself readily. It spreads easily by attaching its seeds to animals, human clothing, and even tires. The prickly seeds stick to the soles of shoes and embed themselves in socks. The irritating points of the seeds force any creature to stop and remove them, right there. Although the Khakiweed’s seeds are not as painful as sticker burs, the bane of barefoot Texas children, they are annoying. And, as I have observed, even Texas dogs do not like them.
Like the sticker bur, also known as the Sandbur, which is native to the sandy soils of the south, Khakiweed is likely here to stay. Universities are developing control methods, often requiring pre-emergent herbicides and plain old grubbing out of the weeds. But, as with sticker burs, the prickly arrowhead-shaped seeds of Khakiweed might become part of the landscape. In a January 1985 Texas Monthly article, Mimi Swartz wrote: “There is one thing to be said about the loathsome sticker. It breeds cautiousness, a quality not widely admired here but useful in a state that features jellyfish and rattlesnakes. The wise Texan learns to pick and choose his fights with the landscape.”
So, pick your fight with Khakiweed if you want. Dig it out, taproot and all, if you can. And don’t ever walk on mats of Khakiweed: the seeds will stick to your shoes and reintroduce the plant to weed-free areas. Be observant, cautious, and vigilant, and your yard may remain Khakiweed-free. Or maybe it won’t.