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This small city is being swallowed up by a weird, hairy tumbleweed

"It's not funny anymore."

FIONA MACDONALD
19 FEB 2016
 

A type of fast-growing tumbleweed known as 'hairy panic' is clogging up homes and entire streets in the small Australian city of Wangaratta, in the north-east of Victoria.

The tumbleweed is common at this time of year, but not normally to this extent - in one development on the outskirts of the city, residents are complaining that the grass is blocking their doors and windows, and as soon as they clean it up it starts building up again. It's believed the abundance has been caused by a combination of unusually dry conditions this year, and a nearby farmer failing to maintain his land and allowing the perennial grass to build up.

 

Hairy panic, or Panicum effusum, is a common type of grass that grows across Australia. It's distinguishable by the long 'hairs' along the edge of its blades, and after it dies, it becomes a tumbleweed, which means it still contains seeds and is blown around the countryside to disperse them.

When sheep eat a lot of the grass, hairy panic can cause a potentially fatal condition called yellow big head. But by the time it dries up, it's no longer toxic, veterinary surgeon Richard Evans told the BBC.

"The important thing is it's not going to kill people's dogs and cats, it just makes a hell of a mess," he said.

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Despite the now-viral images of the tumbleweed taking over people's homes, authorities say they can't do much to help, as the grass reportedly doesn't pose a serious fire threat. But they do recommend locals spray the tumbleweeds with water to make them more compact.

"It’s not uncommon at this time of year, in this instance the land it is coming from is usually turned into hay and slashed before summer," Wangaratta fire station operations officer Trevor Logan told Domain. "I don’t believe that has happened this year."

Understandably, residents are pretty pissed off - particularly those living in the 20 homes in the Bella Way development, which is on the border of the farm land, who have reported the grass up to roof height.

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"It's physically draining and mentally more draining," local Pam Twitchett told Prime7 News Albury. 

"The first few times you walked out it was funny," Michelle Parisi told Domain. "The weeds flew around like snow and it was that thick, but then you get annoyed because you can’t get out the front door."

"It's not funny anymore," another resident added.

On Thursday, the Wangaratta Council met to discuss the options for dealing with the problem, and are now assessing whether large suction devices and extra bins might be a feasible solution. On Friday morning, street sweepers attempted to help clean up the problem.

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Of course, in a country like Australia, where thousands of tarantulas take over flood plains, baby spiders fall from the sky, and sinkholes swallow entire campsites, you have to put the frustration of a tumbleweed attack into perspective. 

"I'd prefer tumbleweeds over a fire, flood or dust storm," said Parisi. "I’m not going to lose sleep over it, but it can be annoying."

Yep, we feel you. 

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