Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Phragmites australis

Deceptively innocent looking isn't it? Don't be fooled. Phragmites australis is an invasive species of reed grass that crowds out native species and eventually takes over any wet areas it can sink its greedy roots!

I didn't know a thing about this aquatic plant until I moved back home last August. My cousin talked about it and how he has to burn it each year in our drainage ditches to keep it from blocking them completely. I began to notice just how prevalent this species is. It is in every single body of water I've seen in our area! It has taken over the wildlife area in the Toussaint River and now the native grasses are gone.

I've learned that there are only two ways to control it: pulling by hand or spraying it with a strong concentration of RoundUp. I use both methods and it's still a constant battle to keep it under control. Pulling it without gloves leads to tiny cuts all over my hands that make it look like I lost a fight with a razor blade--very painful paper cuts all over my fingers that lasted for days! I don't like using RoundUp but I will as a last resort. It also helps keep the cattails under control. Cattails are another non-native species hailing from England, but they are much easier to control and much less insidious! Phragmites doesn't need much water to grow. Just an inch or so of standing water is enough to get it started!

I post this entry as a public service warning. If you see anything that even closely resembles this plant growing on your property do what you can to eliminate it before it gets out of control!


  1. There are so many invasive species running amok up here in Michigan. We have a big problem with Purple loosestrife. It likes marshy areas and relly goes nuts.

  2. Don, we have that stuff down here too. Biologists were fit to be tied when it started showing up around here because it's so hard to eradicate. Then people started planting "that pretty purple flower" in their gardens and all heck broke loose!

  3. Hello,

    We have the same problem with cattails but I'm afraid to use Roundup because of the fish, so we're keeping it at the bay by regulating the water level (cattails do not spread to where it's too deep or where it's dry part of the year). Works so far but that remedy is not without side effects. Did you have any problems with the fish after using Roundup?


  4. from the farm, thanks for commenting. I did considerable research before deciding what herbicide, if any, I would use. RoundUp works by preventing plant leaves from transferring the food they create from photosynthesis to the plant roots. Autumn is the ideal time of year to use it for that reason; the plants are sending starches to their roots to survive the winter. Interrupt the transfer of food and you kill the plant by starving it.

    There are many herbicides that should not be used in ponds because of the damage they can cause to other organisms. RoundUp does not have dangerous effects on fish, only plants. This was important for me to know because we fish the pond on occasion. I'm also in the process of stocking the pond with various fish species, so the last thing I want to do is kill the fish!

    Bottom line: you have to use the method you're most comfortable with. For me, the combination of pulling during the growing season and using RoundUp in the fall seems to work the best.

  5. I appreciate all the details here about how you're working to eradicate these invasive species. It's important to do it in the most environmentally safe way you can, and I congratulate you.

  6. I don't think I've seen those plants around us, but we're not really near any water either. Hopefully we'll have a pond one day, so I'll definitely keep my eyes out for it. Thanks for the info! :)

  7. Thanks for the clarification!

    I hope you will post updates on stocking the pond - I plan to do it too and I noticed that these blogs with real people experience often are more helpful than any books or articles one can find.

  8. Ruth, I abhor chemicals. But in this case I must do what's best for the ecology of my pond. And that means pulling out the big guns!

    J&J, I hope you never have to deal with phragmites. It's a real pain in the patoot and it will take over if you're not vigilant.

    from the farm, you are very welcome. I agree, ordinary folks with experience are often the best sources of advice.

  9. I wonder if it is related to the giant reed grass we have invading Sabino Canyon. There is an effort underway to remove it also and they will be using both methods you describe. They have to fight it or it will take over this wonderful mountian canyon and crowd out all the native plants as you say. I will be posting about this issue soon. When we were there on Tuesday to do our bird survey it was like hiking through the jungle!

  10. Kathie, invasive species are a real headache. It makes me wonder why do we introduce exotic species to our ecosystems? The big entry point for non-natives here is the Great Lakes, a lot of them just in my life time!

  11. Amy:
    Want to hear something funny?

    When Laura and I went to visit Delia this Spring, we were talking about that plant. I asked how to pronounce it.
    Laura said it was "frag-mite-eez".
    I let a few seconds pass, then said,
    "Wow. Sounds like a gay gladiator."

    Remember THAT when you are pulling it out and killing it. Will help. Promise.

    : )


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