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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Another plant that just keeps showing up!

I was sitting on the beach this Memorial Day weekend enjoying the ocean breeze and watching the Osprey fish out of the Delaware Bay when a tall grass caught my eye on the nearby dune.  I tried to resist looking at what it was, after all it was a long weekend AWAY from work, and I'd already bored anyone on the beach that would listen talking about the Brown Pelicans, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Cormorants, ducks, and of course the GULLS (I think they were ready to hit me when I got into the definition of why they aren't actually "sea" gulls...) at any rate I digress.  So of course, I couldn't help myself and got up to take a closer look at this grass blowing in the breeze.  Much to my dismay my hunch was correct and I had just found myself the newest infestation of Phragmites australis, or common reed!

It seems that this invasive wetland plant is spreading more and more rapidly and I keep noticing it in new places.  We just worked on  some phragmites over at Stateline Woods last week, and I discovered a new patch while I was there that we are hoping to put on the to-do list for this week.  Last summer, I spent an afternoon in a boat with some friends through the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge on the Indian River. The area was thick with Phragmites and you could see the line of it marching along. I guess before I wax too poetic about the plant, it would be helpful for those of you who are not already familiar with it to learn a few tips about identification.  

 Introduced Phragmites forms dense stands which include both live stems and standing dead stems from previous year’s growth. Leaves are elongate and typically 1-1.5 inches wide at their widest point. Flowers form bushy branched cluster of flowers (otherwise known as panicles) in late July and August and are usually purple or golden in color. As the seeds mature, the panicles take on a fluffy appearance. Below ground, Phragmites spreads horizontally by sending out a dense network of rhizomes.  Phragmites also spreads by seed, but is mostly spread through the rhizomes.  You may notice I specified INTRODUCED Phragmites, that is because there is also a native phragmites, which is fairly difficult to differentiate from the invasive Phragmites.  Some of the best ways to tell:

Introduced Phragmites forms a monoculture, where the native Phragmites will not.  New populations of the introduced Phragmites will be quite sparse, but will rapidly increase.  

Introduced Phragmites can grow on fairly dry sites as well as areas where the rhizomes are continuously inundated with water.  The native Phragmites can only grow in tidal sites where the rhizomes will not be continuously inundated with water.  

Most people who mention Phragmites are speaking about the invasive plant, and most populations that I have come across are the invasive type, however it is worth noting that the native plant does exist!
So now that you can identify it, how do you control it?  Repeated mowing will slow the spread of the plant, but will not completely eliminate it from an area.  Prescribed fire AFTER the plant flowers has been shown to be very successful, however, if the prescribed fire takes place in the spring or early summer, it can actually stimulate growth.  Chemical controls can also be used with care.  My personal favorite method for the control of this plant is to place a rubber glove on your hand, and then put a cotton glove on top of the rubber glove.  Spray the cotton glove with a solution of a glyphosate based herbicide, and then using your gloved hand rub the plant with the herbicide.  This gives control of the plant, but allows you to be very exact with the placement of the herbicide which is non-selective.  This method works quite well, and I have had great success!  

The one good thing about Phragmites? You can use the hollow stems from last year's growth to make bee nesting habitat.  The stems are very hollow, and great for the creation of wood bees nests!! 

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