Hairy panic strikes Australian town: What is this toxic tumbleweed?

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Walls of tumbleweed from neglected farmland are causing havoc in the Australian city of Wangaratta, encircling homes and threatening livestock.

It might sound like the unlikely plot of a 1950s B-movie, but the weed - also known as hairy panic grass or witchgrass - has blown into a residential neighborhood. The invasion has prompted local authorities to hold an emergency summit, reports ABC News.

Images from the area show bundles of the bristly tumbleweed blocking front doors to homes and forming barriers outside driveways.

The toxic weed originated in nearby farmland among neglected hay crops, and was not prevented from spreading into local neighborhoods.

An information pamphlet about animal health, produced by Australia’s Department of Primary Industries, explains that the grass contains toxins which can cause serious liver damage, photosensitivity and jaundice in sheep.

Signs of poisoning include swelling of the head or sunburn on the nose and ears of sheep.

The Department warns the golden, spindly grass is “most toxic when it is young, lush and growing rapidly”, but it is not dangerous to humans.

Wangaratta resident Jason Perna described to ABC News how he woke to find six meters of tumbleweed outside his home.

“It makes it difficult to get the car out in the morning - if you can find it,” he said.

In a bid to find some silver lining to the tumbleweed takeover, some residents are considering harvesting the hairy panic grass for scarecrows.

The online reaction to the grass invasion has been a mix of shock and amusement.