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It belongs in the phenoxy class of herbicides. 2,4 -D is probably the most common broadleaf herbicide used world-wide. It is used as a post-emerge material.
There are various formulations of this product on the market. Amines are the most common while esters tend to be used in more specific situations.
Its mode of action is hormonal. It must be adsorbed and translocated into the plant to achieve kill. It attacks growing points in the plant and gives a characteristic curling, twisting effect once activity becomes visual. The chemical acts as a "toxic" auxin as compared to the naturally occuring auxins in the plant.
Activity is enhanced by warmer temperatures. Caution is advised due to its ability to drift and cause off-site injury. Many states/counties have cut-off dates for its use due to potential drift injury. It is a restricted-use chemical in most areas although over-the-counter mixtures can be bought in almost any garden center.
Its advantage is that it is fairly cheap and widely available. Most grasses are tolerant. It has little soil activity, although there are exceptions where heavy dosages did create soil residual problems that were short-term.
Sorry that I can't reference all of the above, but it is a summation of several years of weed science.
Or send me a real email (I never ever ever check the PM section of this message board) & I will email you back with the most recent NEJM report on 2,4-d & the very insignificant health risk it's proper use poses.
My dad used to be a supervisor for tree and brush control for the telephone co. From what I remember, 2,4,D gets into the cells of the plant and causes them to grow at such a rapid rate, they literally explode from within. The cell walls can't handle this much expansion at one time, so they burst and this kills the plant. As far as it being used in the formulation of "Agent Orange", there may be some truth here, too. Again, from what I remember, "Agent Orange" is also know as 2,4,T--very similar to 2,4,D, but the dioxin ("T"), has been replaced by "D". Now, again with the memory thing.....2,4,T had a mix rate of 100 gal. of water to 1 gal. of chemical. WHEN UNCLE SAM USED IT IN S.E. ASIA, HE FIGURED MORE IS BETTER, SO LET'S NOT DILUTE IT!!!!!!!!!!! No wonder it did what it did to everybody. I used this stuff for years and even mixed in some diesel fuel to hel it stick and, oh my gosh, no problems! Gee, eveybody else I know that FOLLOWED THE LABEL didn't and doesn't have any of the side effects. Funny how the gov't makes it hard on us because they screwed up. OK OK, I'll get off my soap box now.