For the past 50 years, areas near the border between North and South Carolina have been ground zero for a fierce battle in the war against a devastating weed. Federal and state officials and local farmers have been fighting the only known U.S. infestations of witchweed (Striga asiatica), an invasive plant that has crippled key segments of the agricultural industry in countries around the globe.


The parasitic weed is a danger to some of our nation’s most important crops, including corn, sorghum, sugarcane, rice and other plants belonging to the grass family. It taps directly into a plant’s root system to rob it of nutrients and moisture – dramatically reducing yields.

Unfortunately witchweed also is very prolific. A single plant can produce as many as 50,000 dust-like seeds that can live in the soil for a decade or more, making eradication a tough and time-consuming process.

But for farmers battling the weed in North and South Carolina, the end seems tantalizingly close.

“We’re 99 percent of the way there,” says Alan Tasker, national noxious weed program manager with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). “Not only have we halted the spread of witchweed over the past five decades, but we’ve dramatically reduced the number of infested acres as well – down from 450,000 in the 1950s to about 2,000 today. Our goal is to eradicate it once and for all.”

Witchweed is native to Africa, India, the Middle East, and China. So how did it make its way to the Carolinas? No one is sure. A graduate student from India first spotted the slender, red-blossomed pest in 1955. He knew it well because of its devastating impact on his own country’s sorghum crops.

To avert a similar disaster for U.S. growers, Congress created an eradication program in 1957 led by a USDA program that later became the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The agency established a research station and farm where it developed the science-based control methods that have produced outstanding results. The successful program is built around three critical phases – each involving close collaboration among federal and state officials and farmers in the Carolinas: