Plants travel the world in a variety of ways. Some making the journey to a new location have the potential to spread invasively, creating big problems in their new homes.
That's why Charles Bryson, a botanist at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service Crop Production Systems Research Unit in Stoneville, Mississippi, always has an eye out for the appearance of new and potentially invasive plants. When graduate student Lucas Majure brought him an unknown sedge that he found growing in several cemeteries on the far side of the state in Meridian, Bryson took notice when the small, grass-like plant turned out to be blue sedge (Carex breviculmus), an Asian and Australian native that was previously unknown in North America.
Some sleuthing revealed that, with the exception of some campsites used by transients and vagrants, the sedge seemed to be only found in or around four cemeteries in Meridian. How did it get there?
It turns out that one of the cemeteries is Rose Hill Cemetery, the final resting spot for Emil Mitchell and Kelly Mitchell, reputed to be the King and Queen of the Gypsies in the United States. Their grave site has become a draw for visitors from around the world, who leave various offerings at the graves. Bryson speculates that seeds of the sedge trapped in a visitor's clothing may have been deposited at the grave site or were contained in the soil of plants left at the graves as gifts. Plants may have hitchhiked to the other cemeteries on workers' clothing or lawn care equipment.
For now, Bryson is keeping a close eye on the blue sedge, which is considered a weed in Asia. ″We could be looking at another headache for the lawn and turf world,″ he cautions. This botanical traveler may just have a gypsy's urge to wander further.
To read more about the unraveling of this plant mystery, go to page 22 in Agricultural Research Magazine.