A couple of weeks ago I happened to hear a little blurb on the radio about plant changes as the Earth warms up. There was a hint that some plants, such as the invasive phragmites, would become a terrible nuisance and gobble up all of our marshes unless something was done to prevent that from happening. Now I have a great fondness for a lot of creatures that like wet areas, like frogs and snakes and all of our other amphibians and reptiles, but I also had no experience with or knew of any areas where phragmites grew. The name itself sounds sinister.
There is a spot on the side of Route 1 in Pembroke near the Perry boundary that I thought had phragmites in it but I wasn’t sure, so I took a picture of one of the tassels and sent it to a Maine invasive plant biologist in Augusta. I did not mention phragmites but asked what kind of plant this was and if they were alright for the environment, or should some effort be put into their not spreading. The biologist replied and confirmed that this was indeed phragmites, a severely invasive plant, and it would be worth putting an effort into preventing its spread. The biologist also wrote that it is not illegal to have it on your property, but it is illegal to intentionally sell or propagate it. She also sent me documents on methods of controlling phragmites. These were mostly from Michigan, where they apparently have a major problem with invasive phragmites taking over wetlands and lake frontage.
There are two types of phragmites here in the United States. The invasive species is native to the old world and was apparently brought over accidentally in the late 1800s. It can grow a little taller, but it grows and spreads faster and aggressively takes over almost any wetlands where it appears, whether competing with native phragmites or any other native plant. This characteristic immediately caused it to be unwanted, as our native plants, like cattails, were displaced.
This certainly is the idea that I got from reading the information from Michigan. Control and even elimination are preached, and even fire and herbicides like glyphosate are recommended. I wondered if this extreme attitude is common, especially the thought of using chemicals, so more reading turned up new ideas.
A report from Maryland suggests that more study is probably necessary before attempting to eliminate invasive phragmites entirely. The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center has determined that invasive phragmites absorb three times more carbon than native plants. Invasive phragmites help build up the soil better than native plants. The seeds of invasive phragmites are eaten by many waterfowl, like mallards, wood ducks and geese. The leaves of this plant are readily eaten by browsers such as cattle, goats and horses.
It is obvious that a compromise solution is in order. Invasive phragmites have a lot characteristics that are attractive for such things like stabilizing the shoreline and rising ocean. It is our job as Homo sapiens to use this and other tools to accomplish this.
Gralenski, F. (2023). Phragmites. The Quoddy Tides.