Not all grass is equal and some types are less ideal than others. Digitaria Ciliaris, also commonly known as finger grass, can quickly take over an area and what’s more, it can be hard to get rid of. Here is more information about Digitaria Ciliaris and what you can do about it.
Finger grass (Digitaria Ciliaris): Finger grass, also known as Digitaria Ciliaris, is not native to North America and is deemed an invasive species. Even though it has some benefits as food for livestock, it can take over areas very quickly and should be removed when possible.
What is finger grass or Digitaria Ciliaris?
Digitaria Ciliaris has many names, so even if you aren’t familiar with its scientific name, you may still be aware of it. It is also called tropical finger grass, southern crabgrass, tropical crabgrass, and simply summer grass.
It prefers temperate and southern areas and even though it originated in Asia, it is common throughout North America.
Unfortunately, finger grass is an aggressive weed. It is usually an annual plant, meaning it dies off in cold winters. However, it produces seeds that lay dormant, and then in the following spring, these seeds will sprout, continuing the cycle.
Digitaria Ciliaris Characteristics
In warmer climates that don’t have very cold winters, finger grass is a perennial. This means it will stay alive through the winter and keep growing.
In colder climates that have consistently cold winters, the plant will die off in late fall. However, by that time it will have produced flowers and seeds that then start to grow in the warmer temperatures in the spring.
As you can see, no matter what climate you live in, finger grass has evolved to keep producing. This is one major reason why it is so invasive.
The leaves on finger grass are long and start to grow right from the base of the grass. The leaves will alternate in direction and are spaced out so there can be up to an inch of stem between each leaf.
Finger grass stems can grow to be about 9 inches tall. The stems are long and thin and usually stay erect although will start to bend slightly the taller they grow.
Flowers develop at the very top of finger grass in the height of summer. You can expect to see these flowers bloom in July and if the weather stays warm enough, the blooms can last right through October.
After finger grass blooms, the flowers will eventually turn to seeds. These seeds are very tiny and easily move with the wind.
Because of the size and abundance of seeds, finger grass can spread for miles around an original plant.
Other names for finger grass
Finger grass goes by many names. Its scientific name is Digitaria Ciliaris. It is also known as tropical grab grass. However, it is slightly different than crabgrass (Digitaria ischaemum) which is used on many lawns in warmer climates.
How does finger grass spread?
Originally, finger grass spread from Asia and other parts of the world as explorers discovered other parts of the world. It blends in easily with other types of grasses.
Once established in North America, it was further transplanted as wild grass was cut down for livestock purposes and feed grass moved through different areas.
Now that finger grass is in the wild, it produces tiny seeds that easily become airborne. You may also be out hiking and have finger grass seeds stick to your clothing, and then accidentally bring it back to your home.
Is finger grass good for anything?
Even though finger grass is not ideal for a home garden, it does have some advantages. Namely, it makes for a nutritious meal for livestock.
There are many nutrients in finger grass, so cutting it down and giving it to animals does make sense. However, once the grass goes to seed, it produces fewer nutrients as the plant becomes dormant until the next growing season.
Digitaria Ciliaris is drought-tolerant, which makes it ideal for southern parts of the United States. Farmers will often plant it because it does not need a lot of water but still has high levels of protein in it, which offsets livestock costs.
Furthermore, the grass will smother other types of weeds that are not as nutritious. Finally, if you have a cold winter, the grass will die and create green compost that naturally fertilizes the soil.
Why is finger grass invasive?
Even though finger grass is sometimes used by small-scale farmers, it is still considered an invasive species, especially when it grows in the wild.
This is because finger grass will take over any area it grows, out-competing native species for their habitat. It will use up available resources, such as water, light, and space.
Finger grass will grow very fast, even if conditions are not ideal, which means it can cause damage to neighboring trees and shrubs.
How to get rid of finger grass?
Prevention is the best way to deal with finger grass. For home lawns, plant a local variety of grass and keep it watered and well-fed so it grows thickly.
Finger grass seeds will take hold in any patch of dirt, so keep your lawn well cared for so there is no opportunity for finger grass or any other type of weed to grow.
If you discover finger grass in your lawn, try your best to remove it. However, the roots grow deep and dense, so this can be hard.
You will want to get rid of finger grass before it goes to seed to break the cycle of growth. You can try using vinegar to kill the grass but may need to resort to a chemical herbicide to truly get rid of it.
Finger grass is a tad controversial. It is highly nutritious and often used as ground cover to feed livestock but in the wild, it can take over habitats from native species. If you see finger grass in your yard, you should try to remove it as soon as possible.