Phragmites - the non-native variety.

Phragmites – beautiful until you know its ugly nature.


In February I visited Chicago for a girls’ weekend, and on the drive down I noticed wide swaths of a grass I’ve become too familiar with: Phragmites (Frag-my-tease) australis. Where before cattails and other bog plants grew, Phragmites now stood in rampant, dense stands. It is especially noticeable because it grows up to fifteen feet tall and because of the large reddish to tan sweeping seed heads. Once it is established it wipes out other plants, so all that is left is Phragmites. It even changes the surrounding habitat. This Eurasian grass has been invading Michigan bogs, drain swales, wetlands, and beach fronts. It surprised me to know Illinois and Indiana have such large invaded areas.

Once Phragmites takes over a site it does damage by displacing native plants and animals. Most native animals, even insects, do not eat Phragmites. It is a perennial plant with prolific seed setting capabilities and rampantly growing rhizome roots. The stand in the photo was along Schoenherr Road in Mason County, Michigan, showing it grows inland is well as on the Great Lake’s shores. Here it is growing in a drain ditch which is often dry. Because of its seeds and root system it is hard to destroy, when you add its habitat near wetlands and lakes where herbicides, which often require a permit, must be used with great care, it causes major eradication problems.

Michigan has information on getting rid of this plant, but it is a long term project. Goats eat Phragmites, but how many farmers keep goats? If you see it growing in your area you might contact your closest Department of Natural Resources office. For more information, and there is much more to know, check the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative.

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