Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), sometimes known as sweetgrass, is a beautiful ornamental grass celebrated for its displays of pink, purple or white flowers in the late-summer and fall.
Native to the coastal plain from Connecticut to Texas, this perennial, clump-forming grass is a tough and reliable landscape plant in the Southeast. As a result, it has become very popular in South Carolina landscapes. Additionally, wild muhly grass is one of the primary components of the famed sweetgrass baskets of the SC Lowcountry.
Muhly grass is generally pest and disease free, making it a low maintenance perennial, but a potential pest was recently discovered for the first time in SC. The ‘muhly grass mealybug,’ as we’re calling it, doesn’t have an official common name. Its scientific name is Stemmatomerinx acircula. It was identified from a home landscape planting of muhly grass in the West Ashley area of Charleston county in Fall 2018. According to the USDA, this was the first report of the insect outside of Florida where it is native.
Very little is known about this insect’s biology, distribution or pest status, so Clemson University researchers are beginning work to determine how widespread is it in SC, if it is likely to spread farther, and if it will become a significant or occasional pest of muhly grass or other plants. The results of this research will inform future pest management decisions (if needed) to maintain the use of muhly grass in the landscape.
You can help! If you see muhly grass plants with clumps of white fuzz on their leaf blades (see photos), take a digital picture and send it along with location information (ideally GPS coordinates) to Cory Tanner, email@example.com. If using a smart phone, turn on location services for the camera app before taking the picture and GPS coordinates will be automatically added to the picture you send.