“Canada’s most invasive plant”, Phragmites, has been widely spread by human activity
Phragmites is a tall and hardy invasive grass in our region and can destroy natural habitats by eliminating vegetation in wetlands, shores, beaches and other natural places. Judith Jones, coordinator of the Manitoulin Phragmites Project, recently shared her knowledge of what is being called “Canada’s most invasive plant” in a series of two webinars.
The first webinar explained what Phragmites is, why it’s a problem, and what can be done about it. The final session on April 5 discussed the differences between American Phragmites and European Phragmites. The overall message was: “Phragmites is an aggressive invasive species, spread primarily by human activity. Learn to recognize it. Don’t cross it, but if you do, clean your machine.
Ms. Jones has officially worked with Phragmites on Manitoulin Island for seven years, but began monitoring the plant in 2011. Since its inception, the Manitoulin Phragmites Project has controlled or eradicated Phragmites at more than 90 sites. A site can be anything from a few stems to 50 hectares of habitat containing many hectares of Phragmites.
“Our main focus of the talks was to familiarize people with Phragmites and how to care for them,” Ms Jones said.
Phragmites is a very tall, sturdy grass with broad leaves and tough, sturdy stems, almost like bamboo. Plants can reach up to five meters (15 feet) in height. Their stems can be red or green, ridged or smooth. The grass flowers from mid-late August to September, later than other grasses of similar size. Tall, dead stems often remain standing for several years among the new green stems. The leaf stem has no collar or membrane where it encloses the stem.
“Phragmites is primarily spread through vehicles such as ATVs, excavators, snowmobiles, boats and backhoes; basically any machinery that hasn’t been cleaned that has remnants of the factory in it,” she said. Pieces of stem and seeds get stuck on vehicles and can spread and create new patches. “If a vehicle has been in phragmites, clean it before leaving. If you are pulling weeds from the boat stays, throw the material into the boat and throw it ashore.
Do not throw the pieces in water and let them float, Ms Jones said. “It spreads in fragments. If a machine crosses it into the ditch and you get phrags on the machine and you put the machine on a float and drive it to another spot and drive it into the next ditch then you have it spread from one ditch to the next. That’s why it’s on the highways all over Manitoulin.
Phragmites are a problem because they poison and kill natural vegetation, destroy habitat for fish and wildlife such as turtle nesting areas, and block the normal flow of water through the soil. Grass clogs ditches and drains causing flooding, damages infrastructure and reduces sight lines for drivers, leading to human safety hazards. Grass also blocks access to shorelines, reduces the owner’s enjoyment of the shoreline and leads to loss of property value.
“I’ve shared some of our success stories over the past few years,” Ms Jones told The Expositor. “For example, when we started the phrag control program at Michael’s Bay, there were 19 hectares of property that had phrags and now we’re down to four, so hopefully we’re close. nothing there.”
Another area worked was from South Baymouth to Maw Point to Wiikwemkoong. Ms Jones said the area includes 50 acres of habitat and has almost been cleared of Phragmites. “There is follow-up work that needs to be done in a few small sites to get this under control.”
Manitoulin seems to have a lot more American Phragmites than most places. American Phragmites are the native subspecies of North America. European Phragmites are native to Eurasia. “In southern Ontario and the United States, and maybe other places, I think you probably don’t have that many American Phragmites and you might not be a problem, but at least knowing how to identify them is a useful thing. ”
European Phragmites are more aggressive and grow in greater densities than their American counterparts. European Phragmites are generally taller, with upward-pointing leaves and green or red-tinged stems that are ridged rather than smooth. Its foliage is often dark blue-green and its flowering is later, generally in September/October.
American Phragmites tend to be shorter and thinner and have outward-pointing leaves. Their dark red stems are usually smooth and often shiny and the foliage is mostly olive green. However, these are just general trends, Ms Jones warned. European Phragmites can be reddish and sparse and American Phragmites can be over two meters tall.
Although American Phragmites are generally less invasive than their European counterparts, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also be controlled. Jones suggested some criteria to consider when determining whether to manage American Phragmites (the webinars were posted on the Manitoulin Phragmites Project YouTube channel and offer visual descriptions of the two subspecies and how to control them).
Both plants are subspecies, Ms Jones said. “That means they’re basically the same thing, just genetically a bit different. We have different races of human beings. We’re all the same, just slightly different genetically.
Perhaps the reason they are considered subspecies is because they evolved in different places. We don’t know, she said.
The European species was what was used to thatch roofs in the ancient country. “It was a very important plant and I suspect it may have been brought here on purpose,” she said. It is known to have been introduced to the east coast of North America. They were the first to have it and the spread was documented from there.
Ms. Jones did not want to dwell on the two subspecies but instead preferred to focus on Phragmites in general. “There are cases where you have to manage the American,” she said. “I think in most situations you have to deal with it, so let’s not even go there. It’s important to learn to tell them apart, but in many cases on Manitoulin Island you have to deal with them. both.
There will be a major effort to control Phragmites in the Lake Wolsey area this year, as well as continued work in Julia Bay and Roszel Bay.
“We are investigating Phragmites along the North Channel and have looked at it now from Sheguiandah to Cook’s Dock,” she said. “We still have places we haven’t seen. It’s long. So far, they’ve surveyed more than 80 kilometers of shoreline.
She noted that it’s important to have plenty of Phragmites spotters on hand across the island. “We always need volunteers, forever,” Ms Jones said. “Phragmites will always be there because they will always be reintroduced from somewhere, so our strategy is: we’re going to teach everyone how to recognize it and what to do about it, and especially private landowners, so if phragmites show up upright, they know what to do about it and can get on it immediately when there are two or three stems and it’s not a problem.
Manitoulin is a unique place in many ways, she added. “One of the ways we are unique is that we have a lot of team spirit on this island. Despite all our differences, we all love this place and so we can all work here together. The City of London may not be able to say, come on everyone, let’s get rid of the Phragmites, but we can on Manitoulin Island. We can’t get rid of them all over the world. I’m not going to face the whole world. But Manitoulin Island as a whole is worth it. It’s such a special place. We can’t just let the Phragmites destroy it.
Lori Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Manitoulin Expositor