|Behemoth grasses (Phragmites australis) line the boardwalk in the wetlands at Maumee Bay State Park. The reeds are outrageously beautiful, but the beauty comes at a price...a non-native monoculture that is choking out native plants.|
Non-native Phragmites (Phragmites australis), the common reed
We had no idea what this sea of grass was as we walked through it. Down in Cincinnati we're not exposed to grasses that live near Big Water, so when we were walking through the towering reeds with their feathery plumes backlit in the late-afternoon sun, we didn't know it was a bad thing. We just knew it was breathtakingly beautiful, especially when the autumn breezes swept through the fronds, tossing them, and swirling them in one fluid motion...but unfortunately, the 15-ft tall plants are a non-native, invasive species that is slowly choking the life out of biodiverse coastal marshes and wetlands. As phragmites rushes through a wetland, it creates a monoculture in its wake, creating dense thickets that squeeze out native plants such as cattails.
|A sea of common reeds is beautiful from the observation deck on the boardwalk in the coastal wetlands of Lake Erie. |
If only it were supposed to be there...
|Phragmites australis, the common reed, along the Lake Erie coast.|
|We loved walking the boardwalk at Maumee Bay State Lodge. It winds through a wet woods that was filled with migrating White-crowned Sparrows and then pushes through an expansive marsh where Red-winged Blackbirds were gathering.|
Not all phragmites is bad. Native phragmites hugs the coastal and interior wetlands in the Great Lakes region as well. It supports our native wildlife and lays the foundation for a biodiverse habitat, but it can easily be squeezed out by the non-native form. The invasive form creates dense thickets that kill wild rice, cattails, and wetland orchids, which all grow well around native phragmites.
Click here for a post by the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative to help you tell native and non-native phragmites apart.
Click here for a wonderful video created by the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council that shows how to differentiate between the two types.
Click here for another site with information on phragmites and other Great Lakes Restoration projects.
Goats to the rescue?
In an article titled "The Goats Fighting America's Plant Invasion," by Joanna Jolly in BBC News Magazine (January 13, 2015), Jolly writes that marine biologist Brian Silliman of Duke University in North Carolina has been working over 20 years to figure out how to eradicate invasive phragmites. He tried insects and other forms of bio-control, but had no luck. Then after a trip to the Netherlands, he saw the plant wasn't a problem there because it was constantly being grazed by animals. Cue the goats! Silliman got to work and found goats can get the job done. In one study, 90% of the phragmites in the test area was eliminated. Click here to read the entire article.
Normally, we look for deer hiding along the boardwalk, but I would love to look for goats...
Click here for more of our Big Water (November at Maumee) posts.