Investigators seek citizen help to locate invasive pest

Hiding in plain site, Benghal dayflower lay dormant in the South Carolina soil this winter.

But now that the warmth of spring is coaxing the pretty pest into the daylight, state investigators are asking for citizen help to locate it before it causes serious damage.

“We discovered Benghal dayflower in Beaufort, Orangeburg and Calhoun counties late last fall, but in the winter as plants die back it’s impossible to identify them,” said Christel Harden, who leads the plant pest detection and nursery inspection efforts for Clemson University’s Department of Plant Industry.

“Now that they are growing again, we’ll be better able to determine the extent of their spread,” Harden said. “We’re asking people to help us keep an eye out for this weed before it becomes an economic problem for farms and nurseries.”

Benghal dayflower — which bears the alias “tropical spiderwort” and an official name of Commelina benghalensis — sports a pretty violet flower and broad leaves. But it also grows a dense stand that can smother other plants.

It is a particularly damaging pest to row crops like soybeans, peanuts and corn, which combined generate about $500 million in farm receipts in South Carolina, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“Benghal dayflower is a significant problem in Round-up Ready crops, because it is tolerant to many herbicides, including glyphosate,” Harden said. “In other states it has caused a lot of problems.”

The discoveries last fall were the first in the state outside of a plant nursery. Regulators found Benghal dayflower in a container with a liriope in 2005 at a South Carolina nursery, where it was destroyed.

Harden asks South Carolinians who believe they have seen the pest to alert their county Extension agent or the Department of Plant Industry at 864-646-2140 or through this website.

“It’s best if homeowners don’t try to remove it themselves,” Harden said. “Benghal dayflower can spread through underground stems that are hard to remove fully by hand. When we find it, we want to make sure we get it all.”

Native to tropical Asia and Africa, Benghal dayflower was discovered Florida in 1928 and earned its place on the Federal Noxious Weed List in 1983. It has spread across the South from Georgia to Louisiana and often is found in disturbed soils, such as yards, lawns and cultivated areas.