COGON grass (Imperata cylindrica), “talahib” in Tagalog and “palat” in Kapampangan is a ubiquitous part of Philippine landscape. This grass with hard stalks and saw-toothed leaves rapidly invades any piece of land. It is a stubborn grass and very difficult to get rid of.

Cogon grass is an invasive species. In Florida, USA, it is considered a plant scourge probably worse than Kudzu vine. Kudzu is a fast growing vine that kills or damages other plants by smothering them with a blanket of leaves or breaking limbs and uprooting trees and shrubs from its sheer weight. Cogon, which according to a research ecologist in the U.S. is considered as one of the worlds 10 worst weeds, is more aggressive and harder to get rid of than Kudzu.

Reports said that in Florida, cogon kills pine seedlings, squeezes out native plants and ruins habitats for threatened species such as gopher tortoise and indigo snake. The grass is also incendiary in nature, and was blamed for two major wildfires in Florida. Worse, it burns up to 20 degrees hotter than other plants, killing other trees that only survive in less intense fire.

Burning, natural or controlled, is usually healthy for the ecosystem since it rids undergrowths. The presence of cogon however, complicates this process. Because it burns more intensely, it also burns quickly. No wonder we have the term “ningas kogon”, a Filipino attitude characterized by initial enthusiasm for a project which dies out quickly that in the end, nothing is achieved.

Cogon arrives in Alabama in the United States in 1911 as a cargo packing from Asia. It was later cultivated in Central Florida, Alabama and Mississippi for erosion control and forage. Today, it has invaded all continents except Antarctica. Various efforts are now being utilized to control the grass. Some methods, like the application of herbicides, are quite expensive.

Though invasive, there are some uses for cogon here in the Philippines such as roofing material for nipa huts and handmade paper, an export commodity. The abundance and almost limitless supply of cogon makes the production of handmade paper cheap as compared to Abaca pulp. I also found some articles in the internet that claims the grass has medicinal uses. When I was in elementary, we use the flower stalk of cogon to make picture frames in our industrial arts subject.

There are many manufacturers of handmade paper from cogon like the Salay Handmade Products Industries, Inc. and Lina’s Cogon Craft in Nueva Ecija. They produce different products like fans, albums, notebooks, lamps, frames, decors and boxes for export and the local market.

The process of making handmade paper from cogon is simple. The grass is cut into small pieces and boiled in a caustic soda solution. The grass will yield the paper fibers which are then washed. The fibers are mixed with water and poured thinly and evenly into a paper making screen. The resulting sheet is dried. Do the cooking in a well ventilated room to avoid inhaling the fumes. Also, dispose the cooking liquid properly as it contains caustic soda.