Chaff flower

Next Palmer amaranth or waterhemp?

August 07, 2014 7:00 am  • 

BELLEVILLE — In recent years, Palmer amaranth and waterhemp plants have been a headache for farmers.

However, there is a new weed in that same family that could be in farmers’ fields soon.

“The Japanese chaff flower was first confirmed along the Ohio River Valley in Kentucky in 1981,” says Lauren Schwartz,

Ph. D. candidate at Southern Illinois University (SIU).

Her research interests include weed ecology, invasive species, population ecology and quantitative ecology.

“Now, this weed can be found in every county along the Ohio River Valley, including those in Illinois,” she says.

Schwartz notes it inhabits forest areas up to field borders but is not confirmed in any farm field. However, she and other weed scientists at SIU are concerned it will be the next weed challenge.

“Palmer and waterhemp started just like the Japanese chaff flower,” Schwartz explains.

“This perennial weed grows slower than most pigweeds, but can grow in an inch of standing water. And, it has an 80 percent germination rate in drought weather.”

Tillage also doesn’t play a big role in controlling chaff flower. While it is similar to the other pigweeds, the chaff flower has larger seeds than Palmer amaranth, so when tilled under they rise to the top easier.

“We have seen a 97-percent seeding rate when tilled where as other weeds, such as Palmer and waterhemp, have (about) 14 percent,” Schwartz notes.

“Fortunately, the chaff flower plant is still susceptible to a 2-percent herbicide solution.”

While that helps with the seeds, scientists are unsure if herbicide kills the rhizomes the plant also produces.

“We are the only lab in the world looking at this weed,” Schwartz says. “It is so new that it isn’t even found on any scouting apps.”

Schwartz says the Japanese chaff flower has a red stem like pigweed, but the leaves are longer. The weed usually has one main seed head, but the distinguishing factor is opposite leaves.

“If farmers find this near their fields, they should pull it and send it in for identification,” she notes. “We will continue to do research, but we have already seen it stunt soybeans in our testing and it could be damaging if it were to appear in ag fields.”

Crop insurance agents from Rural Community Insurance Service (RCIS) also are concerned and plan to share this news with their farmer clients.

“We always try to stay up to date on new trends and threats,” says Charlie Delaney, RCIS agent.

His colleague, Todd Schaus, agrees.

“When Palmer amaranth became a concern, we were making growers aware of what could happen. Now, this Japanese chaff flower seems to be the same type of monster.”