Tackling Buffelgrass on Tumamoc

Tumamoc Hill is a culturally and scientifically important site in Tucson. It’s an 860-acre ecological reserve and one of the oldest research stations in the world, much loved by the people of Tucson and operated by the University of Arizona College of Science in partnership with Pima County. The hill boasts at least 2,500 years of human use.

Photo: Cooperative buffelgrass control efforts by ASDM, Tumamoc Hill Research Station-University of Arizona, National Park Service, and the Southwest Conservation Corps.  Photo: Paul Mirocha

Bufflegrass control on Tumamoc Hill was suspended eight years ago. In those eight years, buffelgrass has spread rapidly and now covers much of the hill. With the appointment of Ben Wilder as the Interim Director and with the support of many partners (Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, the National Park Service Exotic Plant Management Team, and Pima County), the battle to take back the hill from buffelgrass has begun.

Hillside covered in buffelgrass. Photo: ASDM/Julia Rowe

To start this long process, I remapped the infestation before the rains arrived in July. At the end of July, when the buffelgrass had turned a vibrant green, Doug Siegel (Pima County) and I began spraying buffelgrass. Doug designed an efficient system that uses long hoses and a pump to bring the herbicide to the hillside without having to lug it gallon by gallon in backpack sprayers. We worked hard through August and into September, covering much of the west slope below the research buildings. In early September we were fortunate to work with the Southwest Conservation Corps as well as Eric Lassance and Marcus Jernigan of the National Park Service. Eric and Marcus organized, sprayed, and mapped, while the others sprayed (with backpacks) in the Arizona heat with temperatures often reaching over 100⁰F. Talk about some dedicated workers!

Working with all of these folks was a great experience. I learned so much about the plants on Tumamoc, as well as the insects and other animals like the desert tortoise. It was enlightening to see how many different native plant species were growing in areas where buffelgrass was sparse, while we only found two or three native plant species in areas where buffelgrass was more dominant. We have a lot more to do, but the work we accomplished this summer will give the native plants a little breathing room and make life a little better for the animals that call Tumamoc home.

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, ASDM Invasive Species Research Specialist 

4 Comments Add yours

  1. bobbi55 says:

    What is the herbicide used for spraying buffelgrass?


    1. desertmuseum says:

      Glyphosate-based herbicides are the most effective herbicides against buffelgrass (any many other invasive plant species) and present the lowest risk to neighboring plants. We spray individual buffelgrass plants, and the plants immediately adjacent, even native plants touching the buffelgrass, are unharmed. This speaks to the fact that the glyphosate-based herbicides that we use stay put, they are not moving around through the air or soil. They break down relatively quickly and do not seep into our water table. The persistence, breakdown and movement of glyphosate is an active area of research that we monitor closely. Thanks for reaching out!


  2. Doris says:

    Please post pictures comparing buffelgrass and fountain grass. At first and Cam. de las Candelas a man was carefully removing seed tops of the latter perhaps thinking it was buffelgrass.


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