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E-M:/ phragmites

Have you noticed those ubiquitous tall reeds with feathery tops in wet places where you used to see cattails? Those are phragmites (frag-MY-teez), an invasive plant from Europe.

I had come to think of phragmites as something like the doll 'Chucky' in the movie Child's Play,
evil, indestructible, unkillable.

The plant grows in thickets that now dominate some Great Lakes shorelines, as well as inland wetlands, lakeshores and ditches, displacing many native plants.

In addition to choking off other plants, dense stands of phragmites crowd out birds, mammals and amphibians. The reeds also limit commercial and recreational uses.

80 % of the phragmites plant is below the surface. They can reach heights of 15 feet or more. The roots can radiate 60 feet, reach a depth of six feet and expand outward at the rate of six feet per year.

These giant weeds spread more rapidly by their roots and broken fragments than by seeds.

At a Great Lakes conference earlier this year, I heard government experts from the U.S. and Canada explain that phragmites can be eradicated by applying herbicides, followed by cutting or burning and (ideally, when possible) flooding. In Ontario, the herbicide treatment is limited to glyphosate. In Michigan, glyphosate is used in combination with imazapyr.

This week, National Public Radio carried a story set in New York's Hudson Valley. In order to save the rare bog turtle, officials are restoring the turtle's habitat. They brought in goats to eat the suffocating thickets of phragmites, an effective way of controlling the nuisance plants. It was reported that cattle will eat phragmites, too.

While some may consider controlling phragmites less satisfactory than eradicating it, others see an advantage in the low impact of grazing over the use of toxic chemicals.

-- Jim Lang

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