There's panic in southern Australia! And not just any panic — a "hairy panic."

Imagine tumble-weeds blowing, swirling and piling up six feet high outside your front door. That's what residents of the small town of Wangaratta are facing in the state of Victoria.

"It almost looks like big clouds in front of some of the houses," reporter Teegan Dowling says.

She adds that people's houses and yards are literally blanketed by the fluffy stuff.

"And it's really started to impact on their lives," she says. "They can't get in or out of their houses at the moment. And, they're spending up to about eight hours a day — it's almost like a full time job — picking up all this hairy panic. It's been happening every day since Christmas."

Hairy panic is actually a type of grass native to Australia.

"The grass grows a panicle of flowers on the top. And its generic name is panicum and that's why it's called the panic," says Richard Barley, chief horticulturalist at Kew Gardens in London.

So the panic has nothing to do with the plant's propensity to drive Australians crazy. But, Barley says the grass — aka Panicum effusum — has to be managed carefully.

"It's to do with land management it appears in this case," Barley says. "A farmer, who no doubt is very unpopular locally, has appeared to let the grass grow. These tumbleweeds, when they get to a certain size and the seeds set, they detach themselves at the base and become wind-borne."

Looking at images from this town in Australia, it's totally reminiscent of those old Hollywood westerns. And by the way, Barley says that kind of tumbleweed we used to see on the big screen wasn't even native to North America.

"There's a classic example of a Russian fissile — as you can imagine comes from Eurasia — and it was introduced into North Dakota in about 1870 and contaminated flax seed," Barley says. "And when you look at westerns now, you see tumbleweeds blowing around the scenery. That's often giant Russian fissile. Its become a very invasive and damaging weed. And that's one of the reasons why I'm so interested in the weeds, when they get out of their natural place they can become very invasive."

Residents of Wangaratta are being urged not to panic about their hairy panic problem. Because, the tumbleweeds last a while, but then gradually break up.

Until then, folks in Wangaratta will just have to have their brooms — or better yet their leaf blowers — at the ready.

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