Hairy panic hits Australia

A small town in Australia is being invaded by hairy panic, and the authorities are at a loss to know what to do about it.

Thankfully, this hirsute horror show has nothing to do with an influx of bearded hipsters on fixies, although it’s feared that it might cause an outbreak of yellow bighead disease, which sounds far from pleasant.

The villain of the piece here is a species of tumbleweed called Panicum effusum, more commonly known as hairy panic, a short-lived, fast-growing perennial, which is native to inland regions of Australia and is present in every mainland state of the country. Quantities of Panicum effusum blow across the country every year, but it has become a serious plague-proportion problem this southern summer because conditions are particularly dry, and some parts of Wangaratta, in Victoria’s northeast, are literally becoming clogged with the furry floral menace.

The plant, a kind of grass that has long hairs along the edges of its leaves, utilises a tumbleweed tactic during times of extreme aridity in order to reproduce, with great clouds of it blowing around all over the place, dispersing a payload of seeds as it travels. As a method of procreation it’s highly successful.

But that news will do little to appease livid locals in Wangaratta, who are seeing vast quantities of the weed pile up outside their houses, sometimes to roof height, swamping lawns and choking doors and windows. Angry fingers are being pointed at a local farmer, who has seemingly failed to keep one of his paddocks under control, leaving the rest of the town to bear the burden of the colossal clean-up operation.

Its capacity to annoy and irritate is immense, but there more serious considerations for livestock farmers too. If consumed in large quantities by sheep, it can cause a nasty dose of photosensitisation or ‘yellow big-head’, which sees the hairless areas of the animals blistering.

However, according to local vet Richard Evans, who spoke to the BBC, the weed’s toxicity would diminish once it had dried up. ‘The important thing is it’s not going to kill people’s dogs and cats,’ he said. ‘It just makes a hell of a mess.’