Bringing tears to this reporter’s eyes

elephant grass
Saccharum spontaneum — also known as paja canalera or elephant grass, in bloom along the Pan-American Highway. Photo by Eric Jackson.

Ah, Panama’s hay fever season

by Eric Jackson

There are so many allergies, so this reporter’s reaction may not be yours. Back in Michigan, ragweed and goldenrod were the nemeses. Those are not factors here. But elephant grass is.

It’s one of great environmental disasters of isthmian history. In the 50s the stuff was imported to shore up the banks of the Panama Canal’s Culebra Cut. It became a much more widespread invasive weed. It doomed slash-and-burn agriculture, where the old practice was to abandon a patch of soil that was exhausted to the jungle — but now this stuff rather than trees fills the space. Nothing will eat it. Not even, in its native Asia, elephants.

And when it’s in bloom, the pollen brings tears to this reporter’s eyes. Even when on an air conditioned bus driving past it.


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