Hairy panic' grips Australian town

Hairy panic' grips Australian town
PHOTO: AFP

Hairy panic is paralysing parts of an Australian town - but it's not quite the existential nightmare it sounds, just a fast-growing tumbleweed.

Homes in Wangaratta are being inundated with the evocatively named plant pest, with some residents having to spend hours digging out their driveways.

Townsfolk are no stranger to the native prickly menace, usually swept in by winds during the hot and dry summer months.

But this season has seen an unusual amount of hairy panic - known scientifically as Panicum effusum - with hundreds of thousands of the fuzzy, yellowish plants swamping the entrances of homes, driveways and backyards.

"It's a fairly significant problem," said Rod Roscholler, an administrator for Wangaratta, 250 kilometres (150 miles) northeast of Melbourne.

"For whatever reason, the climate, the weather, the temperatures, the rains, must have combined for it to be a 'bumper crop' this year," he told AFP on Thursday.

Residents spend hours clearing the weeds, piles of which can reach up to the roof.

"It's physically draining and mentally more draining," Pam Twitchett told the Seven news network.

Carpenter Jordan Solimo said the "hundreds of thousands" of tumbleweed, which contains toxins that can be deadly for sheep, were so numerous he was not able to open his backyard door.

"They're covering the front of a couple of people's (houses)," Solimo told AFP, adding that the phenomenon started around Christmas.

"A lot of people's backyards get filled up with them. I tried to get out of my back door the other day but I couldn't, it (the backyard) was just full of tumbleweed." Solimo said he would wait for winds to temporarily move the thin, wire-like grass or use a leaf-blower to clear them away, "and then it's all good before the next lot comes".

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