Buffelgrass is Back (How to Help)

This year, like many years, Tucson put on a 4th of July fireworks display over A Mountain. This would not be a problem for a typical Sonoran Desert landscape that has natural open space among its scattered trees, shrubs, and cacti and thus a very low potential to burn. However, this hill that lies nestled in the heart of the city is largely covered with the invasive plant— buffelgrass. Buffelgrass is an excellent fuel, capable of producing hotter fires that move faster and further than any our native vegetation could possibly produce.

A Mountain immediately after the fire. Photo: ASDM/Julia Rowe

On this 4th of July, I had just flown in from a family member’s wedding. Driving home from the airport we noticed that the hillside was on fire. One (or more) of the fireworks had set fire to some of the bone-dry grass, and the fire was rapidly spreading across the hill. We saw saguaros engulfed in flames.

Just days after the fire,  you can see bright, green buffelgrass sprouting up all over the burned area.  Photo: ASDM/Julia Rowe
Just days after the fire,  you can see bright, green buffelgrass sprouting up all over A Mountain. Photo: ASDM/Julia Rowe

As part of my work with the Desert Museum and the University of Arizona, I went out over the subsequent weeks to map the fire and study the mortality of the saguaros and other perennial plants on the hillside. I worked with Ben Wilder, Interim Director of UA’s Tumamoc Hill, to assess each saguaro cactus for height and burn extent. We will return to see how many of the burned cactus actually died. This will give us a better understanding of how the saguaro cactus withstands fire. From initial observations, the younger cacti are hit especially hard. Many of these will surely not survive.


We will not know the exact number of saguaros lost for some time, but more than 250 were burned in the fire.

So how can you help?

  • Remove any buffelgrass that you see around your homes or neighborhoods.
  • Volunteer to help remove buffelgrass in Tucson.
  • Donate to help fight buffelgrass!

Written by Julia Rowe, Invasive Species Research Specialist. 

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Jo sucherman says:

    The community in which I live has an empty restaurant at our entrance which is for sale & is overrun with buffle grass . We have called the realtor who laughs at us & will do nothing to help the situation. My husband used to go up there to spray but it has gotten out of hand. We have called Saguaro National Park East whichnus tight across Old Spanish Trail. They have not reacted to our calls. The buffle grass is beginning to leach into out community & we are worried. The president of our HOA is frustrated by lack of response by Pima County & SNPark system. I am appealing to you yo help us.


    1. Leslie Evans says:

      We are new in the neighborhood. Could we start a bufflograss eradication group in this area? I bet the owner would be thrilled to have volunteers clean up his property.


      1. desertmuseum says:

        Hi Leslie! Yes, you can definitely but I would contact one of our “Buffelgrass Professionals” to help you get started. Email Julia Rowe at jrowe@desertmuseum.org. Thanks for your interest!


  2. Sherry says:

    Has anybody tried goats? I have seen a small herd of goats turn a lush field into a dustbowl in a matter of weeks…. and that is when they are being fed regularly. You can always eat them if they don’t work out.


  3. Taralyn S. says:

    How can I volunteer to clean up buffelgrass?


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