By: Anthony J. Provenzino
Summary: Phragmites (frag-MY-teez) is a genus containing four different species of tall, perennial grasses found in temperate and tropical wetlands throughout the world. Though evidence exists that certain varieties are native to North America (Americanus,) Phragmites is widely considered to be a disruptive invasive species.
Non-native Phragmites (Phragmites australis/Common Reed) plants have progressed to the Midwest from the east Atlantic coast over the span of a few centuries. It has become of growing concern to local ecosystems because of its tenacious and robust nature, and Michigan is particularly vulnerable to desecration due to the state’s, marshes, islands and sprawling coastlines. Phragmites growth spreads over large areas of shoreline, with some covering as much as .39 square miles of land. Phragmites is also noted for its reaching height, with stems that typically extend up to fifteen feet from the ground. Phragmites grows by way of a Rhizome root system. These horizontally protracting shoots grow underneath the soil and send stalks up at regular intervals. Under the optimal growing conditions these roots can advance at a rate of up to sixteen feet or more per year and may also re-sprout when broken. In addition to Rhizomes, Phragmites may also spread from windblown seeds, soil transfer or else carried by animals.
Phragmites’ ability to dominate makes it difficult for other (possibly more desirable) plant varieties to thrive. Its height blocks essential sunlight from hitting surrounding areas, and its massive root systems absorb the majority of available groundwater. Phragmites’ capacity for soaking up water is such that its growth poses a threat to Michigan’s treasured wetlands.
Though there are several bird breeds have been known to favor Phragmites reed-beds, there are negative impacts on many fish and colonial water birds which have seen their traditional environments threatened or else had food displaced.
Another damaging effect from rapid Phragmites growth is that on publicly utilized infrastructure. Drainage ways suffer clogs and therefore may facilitate harmful flooding in local communities. A lesser, but no less discussed consequence is the unsightly nature of the Phragmites plant which is seen by some as a debasement of Michigan scenery. Some argue that it’s powerful enough to lower property values, and that it ruins the rich shorelines of an otherwise picturesque state. Many people have also pointed out that Phragmites growth interferes with many recreational activities like hiking, swimming and boating- which benefit the communities that depend on the economic surplus brought about by tourism.
Many communities have been affected by the rapid spread of these overbearing grasses- animal, plant and human alike, and elimination efforts have been made in order to halt any further infestation, though success has been difficult to achieve. Such a relentless plant variety has rightly been deemed a significant threat to the natural resources found in Michigan, as well as the rest of the United States.
Why we should care? If adequate action is not taken, Phragmites plants may spread even further and cause irrevocable damage. The Midwest shares a responsibility to protect its unrivaled resources and prevent more damage.
Example News Article(s):
This article is particularly interesting in that it is a telling insight into how beneficial it is to combat Phragmites growth and just how many people have a vested interest in the subject.
What has been highlighted across this and most other material concerning the subject is the multitude of reasons and seemingly unanimous support in favor of taking back control of our surroundings. From conservationist whose greatest ambitions are to protect the makeup of our ecosystems, to the fishermen whose growing concern is for their food supply, and even to those who simply want an open, unobstructed view of the shoreline, the range of interest extends well across the entire region.
The fight against Phragmites is only exacerbated by the fact that it such a vigorous plant. It proves to be extremely difficult to prevent spreading, let alone eradicate entirely.
Science in Action.
Phyllis J. Higman is Senior Conservation Scientist at Michigan State University Michigan Natural Features Inventory Office.
Dr. Higman’s work relies heavily on up-to-date diagnostics and keeping detailed and accurate data, with special attention being paid to Michigan’s some 1700 islands. She and her team carefully assess the dynamics of the state’s ecosystems and the specialized species that occur there. Only after each organism and any contingencies have been considered, may plans of action be implemented. For instance, since the Phragmites plant is so resilient, conventional removal is not truly feasible. Simply mowing, pruning, even burning does not thwart Phragmites’s highly aggressive propensity for growth. Though when combined with a very carefully administered herbicide regimen, positive results have proven to be attainable. The nature of theses habitats and the biodiversity which occurs there make calculated and concise removal plans detrimental to the environment. One incorrectly assessed action may result in even further infestation, as well as running even higher risk to Michigan’s coveted natural resources.
I've heard of Phragmites! I hear that it and teasel crowd out plants like cattails, but I'm not 100% sure. The fact that it can grow and spread so fast is what makes it such a scary invasive species in my opinion. They're damaging and hard to get rid of.
Anthony J Provenzino
I know that I would honestly be a little put of if I had hopes of buying a waterfront property and it was overrun with weeds, especially such vigorous ones. The fact that it suffocates wildlife habitats is especially unattractive, because I love taking pictures of birds and things that might end up being chased away.
“Phragmites may also spread from windblown seeds, soil transfer or else carried by animals.” - Is this the only way that phragmites have ended up here? It makes me wonder if these kinds of things were just inevitable and how extreme the situation would be if humans weren’t here. It’s crazy how powerful one plant can be!
Anthony J Provenzino
The American strain is said to be far less domineering that the European, which is why its thought to have been brought over when the country was being colonized. It has used multiple methods of spreading over the past few hundred years, which up until recently went unencumbered. I think there is a lot of hope for keeping it in check.
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