'Black fingers of death' offer ecological hope against cheatgrass

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Published: Tuesday, July 31 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Our take: With cheatgrass spreading across millions of acres, a fungus has started to grow which kills its progression and prevents the grass from taking over new ecosystems.

SKULL VALLEY — The black spears, no longer than a babys eyelashes, protruded in a row from the seeds that nodded on the end of the grass stalk. Susan Meyer held the cheatgrass stem with one hand and pointed them out with the other.

These little marching armies of toothpicks here, Dr. Meyer said, thats it. Thats the black fingers of death. Her work these days is centered on figuring out how this fungus, which looks like a miniature mohawk haircut, does its lethal work on cheatgrass, perhaps the most disruptive invasive plant in the country and how to help the tiny spears do more of it.

Black fingers, the fungus with the horror-movie handle, is the new artillery that wildland biologists are firing at cheatgrass, a weed that has remade the landscape of the Intermountain West. It has eliminated large concentrations of sagebrush and other native shrubs and perennial grasses by always being first.

Read more about 'Black fingers of death' offer hope against cheatgras on NY Times.

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