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NMSU researchers look to give khakiweed a kick in the pants

It may sound like something found in a garden outside of a men's clothing store, but that doesn't mean researchers at New Mexico State University are taking khakiweed lightly. It's poisonous to livestock, considered one of the biggest turfgrass concerns in the state and it has a real economic impact for those trying to get rid of it.

New Mexico State University researchers are studying khakiweed, considered one of the biggest turfgrass concerns in New Mexico and across the Southwest. (Courtesy photo)

"Khakiweed is certainly a problem weed for lawns, parks and golf courses," said Ryan Goss, an assistant professor in NMSU's Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. He's heading a research effort to learn more about the weed that grows in patches flat to the ground and produces tons of light colored, prickly seeds.

"Parks and lawns are the perfect places for this to show up.
On golf courses, it can affect up to half the surface in the longer grass areas - fairways and roughs," Goss said. "It's also a concern when it shows up in playgrounds, because if kids fall on it, they can get rashes."

Goss said what makes khakiweed such a problem is that it's incredibly drought resistant, it's a prolific seeder and it has a huge, carrot-like taproot.

"If you pull it out, and leave some of the tap root, it's going to come back," he said. "Because it produces so many seeds, it also spreads very quickly. On a golf course, khakiweed seeds will stick to a golfer's pants or golf towel. From there, it's easily carried to the next part of the course, or elsewhere."

Khakiweed is classified as a noxious or problematic species in at least six countries. As part of the research Goss and his graduate research assistant Matthew Alcala are performing, they hope to define the plant's ecology; find what temperature and moisture conditions are favorable for seed germination; and look at the plants lifecycle.

"It's unsightly and it has an economic impact," Goss said. "A few golf courses in Las Cruces and Alamogordo have been severely impacted, making them less desirable for golfers. Those courses have to spend money to get rid of the weed."

Goss conducted an herbicide trial last summer to see what affect various kinds of weed killers had.

"Some of the herbicides we tried killed the top and we get excited," Goss said. "But then it would come back a few months later. So we're trying to figure out if it's coming back from tubers or from seeds."

In the United States khakiweed is native to New Mexico, Arizona and West Texas. The plant normally dies off in the winter and comes back around the middle of March. In forages, it can be poisonous to livestock. It's also used as a medical herb in some cultures.

The research conducted by Goss is supported by the Rio Grande Golf Course Superintendents Association.

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