Identifying Kochia and Ways to Control It

Kochia, pronounced as koh-kee-ah, is a plant native to Asia, brought and introduced to Europe, and becomes ornamental in the US.

People may know it for other names, like mock cypress or Mexican fire brush, but sometimes ‘burning bush’ is more proper due to the reddish appearance during autumn.

Grouped in the family of Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot), this plant has two scientific names: Bassia scoparia and Kochia scoparia. It has many terms to refer to, but you should not get confused over it.

The aforementioned plant is well-known for its sense to rival other plants in an area. Thus, this page will discuss methods to control its growth.

Before we go to the topic, you should know how to identify mock cypress to treat the right weed.


Why You Should Control Kochia’s Growth

Kochia leaves are alternately arranged and are 1 to 2 inches long. They are narrow to lance shaped with smooth, hairy edges and may have silky hairs on leaf undersides.
Kochia Leaves

People consider Kochia noxious because it is a threat to late-maturing crops. It will compete with other plants to scramble their needs of soil moisture, nutrients, and light.

Due to its tendency to grow in areas with limited moisture, the growth of this plant is even more worrying.

The uncontrolled growth even could decrease your crop yields up to 70%. Furthermore, it is highly possible to be a fire hazard when dry.

During the autumn or late summer period, the abundant plants could cause allergic reactions to occur in people due to their airborne pollen.

Apart from the above factors, this plant is also harmful to livestock if eaten. Kochia contains alkaloids, nitrate, oxalate, saponins, and sulfates, which are poisonous to sheep and cattle.

When drought stress or the plant matures, the poisoning possibility will increase.

Hence, it is not an overstatement to classify this burning bush as a non-joking disturbance.

Kochia Identification

Kochia is an effective competitor for light, nutrients, and soil moisture, and can reduce crop yield.
Bassia Scoparia

Grows annually every summer, Kochia can reach up to 6 feet tall (around 1.8 meters) or greater. This herbaceous plant has upright stems and deep taproot as well as spreads branches.

You can identify mock cypress from its flower, foliage, stem, fruit seed, and root.

  1. Flower

Kochia is an erect summer annual broadleaf plant that is difficult to differentiate from fivehook bassia, Bassia hyssopifolia.
Kochia Weed

Kochia flowers are green and small, clustering on terminal spikes and in the topper leaf axils. They do not have petals and thus hard to see. July until October is when they bloom.

The red tone you notice in the figure is not from the floral parts but stems.

  1. Foliage

Kochia grows anew from seed early each spring, eventually reaching heights that in some areas top out at six feet.
Kochia Flower

While the seedling leaves are fuzzy, soft, and gray-green, the foliages on adult plants are narrow with spear shapes. They appear green and grow alternate on the stem to 2 inches long or around 5 cm.

You will know they are Kochia leaves from the hairy textures they have on the edges and also undersides.

  1. Stem

Young stems are pubescent, but older stems near the base are usually glabrous. Kochia often breaks off at the base of the central stem and becomes a tumbleweed that is driven about by the wind, in this manner distributing its seeds.
Kochia Plant

As mentioned briefly, this plant has upright stems. Many branches grow on a stem, and you can feel hairy textures on the topper parts. Sometimes, it grows in reddish and often with red stripes.

Because of this appearance, people cultivate and nurture it as ornamentals and call it Kochia scoparia grass.

  1. Fruit Seed

Kochia is an annual forb that reproduces by seed. The bushy plants grow 1 to 7 ft tall and have taproots. The erect, striated stems are light green and much branched.
Kochia Seed

No, it is not a picture of caramelized popcorns but fruit seeds of Kochia. Each flower of the plant bears a seed, and the sepals cover it. Just as you see in the image, they appear light brown.

  1. Root

Kochia is one of the most difficult-to-control weeds in the west, with its deep root system, prolific seed production and potential herbicide resistance.
Kochia Root

The adult Kochia plants have a taproot that can grow deeply to 16 feet or around 4.8 meters.

Overall, this burning bush appears similar to another species from the family of Goosefoot, like the Russian thistle (Salsola kali). You can tell Kochia apart by its lack of prickles or thorns in the leaves.

The Kochia Weed’s Habitat

Kochia thrives in low rainfall regions. Plants can tolerate a wide variety of soil types, and is found in grasslands, pastures, prairies, roadsides, wastelands, floodplains, riparian habitats, and cultivated fields.
Grow Habitat Kochia

Kochia commonly grows on areas along railroads, cultivated fields, disturbed sites, ditch banks, landfills, roadsides, wastelands, urban dumps, and lands for the grazing of livestock, like rangeland as well as pasture.

It also tolerates poor conditions with salty soils and resistant to drought.

Kochia Reproduction

Kochia reproduces from seeds, it typically produces around 14,600 seeds per plant. Seeds are dispersed in the fall when the plant becomes a tumbleweed.
Propagation Kochia

Kochia produces seeds up to 30,000 per individual, and also from them, the plant reproduces.

In spring, from March to August or early September, you will see mats of gray-green because it is the time when the seedlings germinating.

To be exact, they start germination right after the upper topsoil is free from frost, and the temperatures go up to 50°F or around 10°C.

It grows every summer and becomes tumbleweed when autumn comes or once the plant matures. At the base, you will see its stems breaking off. Not until then do the seeds disperse.

Beneficial Factors

Kochia provides cover and the seeds are used as food by both songbirds and upland game birds. The large quantity of high protein seed makes kochia valuable for poultry feed.
Kochia Benefit

Though noxious and troublesome, this plant could be of any use. It is poisonous to livestock, but in some areas, young Kochia has forage quality and consumable by the farm livings.

The US history also wrote that mock cypress has been nothing but help to stockbreeders as silage and hay when drought occurs in the 1930s and 1950s.

While the original hay species could not survive the disaster, Kochia strived.

The adult plants are harmful to livestock, but not to wildlife species. Pronghorns as well as deer feed on the foliages. Black-tailed prairie dogs, songbirds, sparrows, and upland game birds also consume the seeds.

Kochia even provides nesting and loafing space to some feathery individuals.

Wildlife Species That Feed on Kochia

The other wildlife species, which take advantage of burning bush’ existence by feeding on its leaves are

  • Carolina Grasshopper (Dissosteira carolina),
  • Caterpillars of Virginia Tiger Moth (Spilosoma virginica),
  • Plains Lubber Grasshopper (Brachystola magna),
  • Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis),
  • Caterpillars of Woolly Bear Moth (Diacrisia virginica),
  • Lakin Grasshopper (Melanoplus lakinus),
  • Mottled Sand Grasshopper (Spharagemon collare),
  • Large-headed Grasshopper (Phoetaliotes nebrascensis),
  • Prairie Vole,
  • Red-legged Grasshopper (Melanoplus femurrubrum), and
  • Two-striped Grasshopper (Melanoplus bivittatus).

The shocking news is the growing tips and foliages are edible once cooked. They taste very salty.

Furthermore, the Japanese even makes the seeds delicacy as garnishes. Called tonburi, they have a caviar-like texture. Thus, people often call them mountain caviar, field caviar, or land caviar.

Ways to Control

Now, let us get to the ways to control mock cypress’ growth. The initial step is keeping the plants from doing seed production. You can suppress it mechanically, culturally, or using herbicide.

  1. Mechanically

Kochia scoparia is grown as an ornamental due to its dense and conical shape as well as its bright red color in the fall.
Kochia Scoparia

Young Kochia has not yet grown deep taproot, so it will be easy to hoe or pull out. Collect and dispose of the plant when it reaches the seed-producing stage of growth to prevent more infestation.

Before it is flowering, slashing or mowing the plant will be efficient in decreasing the production of the seeds.

However, slashing and mowing effectiveness only last before the plant re-grows and reproduces new seeds, as Kochia will keep growing on branches below the mowed parts.

You should as well keep the health of the growing fields to prevent the plant establishes.

  1. Culturally

Kochia typically will germinate many times during the growing season, often beginning in March with last flushes occurring from August to early September.
Kochia Seedling

In spring, before the plant grows in the next season, you had better treat the land early tillage due to mock cypress’ dense populations and its rapid patterns of emergence.

This method effectively controls the seedlings of Kochia.

  1. Herbicidal Way

Kochia may provide good forage quality when the plant is young, however, the forage quality declines as the plant matures.
Young Kochia Plant

According to Pest Management Handbooks, you can apply ten herbicides to control the plant’s growth.

Take note that some populations are resistant to specific herbicides because of heavy reliance on this method.

Applying Time

When you suspect resistance in your areas, use other chemicals or combinations. Now, we’ll share a list with the right applying time.

  1. Rimsulfuron (Matrix): Apply it before or after the seedlings emerge. Please avoid sensitive crops during application.
  2. Metsulfuron, such as Escort and others: Apply it in spring continuously until the plant reaches the flowering growth stage. The application is limited only to non-crop sites, rangeland, and pasture.
  3. Imazapyr, such as Arsenal and Habitat: Apply it before or after the plant actively grows. Take note that this herbicide is nonselective. It means the spray will damage or even kill other plants once contacted.
  4. Imazapic (Plateau): Apply it before or after the plant actively grows. Please avoid sensitive crops during application.
  5. Hexazinone (Velpar): Apply it in spring, before the plant is visible to grow. Take note that this herbicide is a restricted-use one. Please be careful during application and do not contaminate water.
  6. Glyphosate: Apply it in spring continuously until the plant reaches the flowering growth stage. Take note that this herbicide is nonselective. Please be careful during application and do not contact the unwanted vegetations.
  7. Fluroxypyr (Vista): Apply it in spring continuously until the plant reaches the bolting growth stage. Please avoid sensitive crops during application.
  8. Dicamba, such as Banvel and others: Apply it when the seedlings actively grow in spring. Please avoid sensitive crops during application.
  9. Chlorsulfuron, such as Telar and others: Apply it before or after the seedlings emerge, continuously until the plant reaches the bolting growth stage. Please avoid sensitive crops during application.
  10. Aminocyclopyrachlor + chlorsulfuron (Perspective): Either apply the combination before or after the seedlings emerge.

Some Critical Aspects

Please be cautious about the chemicals mix before application. You should pay attention to all critical aspects, like adjuvant choice, herbicide rates, spray coverage, tank-mix partners, and spray volume, to get the best result.

Since this plant reproduces by dispersing the seeds, you should combine the methods above with limiting ways that help the spreading.

Restricting traffics through the infested areas and getting rid of the tumbleweeds could be examples.


People consider Kochia as weed and noxious to other vegetations in the same growing areas. It will scramble their needs to grow.

If not controlled, mock cypress will decrease your crop yields. May the information on this page help you in controlling the growth of Kochia scoparia.

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