But there’s little that’s being done to fight them other than a few very focused herbicide treatments in a few local conservation areas.
Mainly it’s because there’s no widespread solution to rid river banks and woodlots of the plant.
Tim Byrne, Essex Regional Conservation Authority’s watershed management director, says since Phragmites is a close cousin to field corn and Kentucky bluegrass (most people’s lawns) spraying it might also affect those plants.
“So some of the things scientists and others are trying to figure out is what is it that separates (Phragmites) from other things,” he said.
“Is there something very specific that will attack it or through chemical treatment will only impact it and not something else?”
Back in the 1990s Purple Loosestrife, another invasive, was a major concern.
But the insect known as the beer beetle attacked it and killed most of the Loosestrife off.
No such luck with Phragmities.
Controlled burns won’t work.
“That’s the worst thing you can do,” Byrne said.
That forces the plant’s rhizomes – underground plant stems that send out shoots – to propagate.
“You’ll see within a week’s time it’ll spring up with twice the number of stems,” he said.
Ploughing Phragmites under has the same effect.
But, if you own a woodlot, you can cut it down to your heart’s content for aesthetic purposes but just expect it to grow back up again.
ERCA is conducting some controlled management.
At Ruscom Shores Conservation Area crews burned it off and then applied Roundup.
“And we were successful but the problem is you then have to have active management of it and when you apply, say, Roundup, you kill everything else,” Byrne said.
The best solution is applying a wick applicator to each individual Phragmite stem, making sure the sponge doesn’t touch any other plants.
But even that’s not a guaranteed kill off.
“It’s like fighting Canadian Thistle, Canadian Thistle is everywhere,” he said.
“Farmers spray it and they spray it every year in wheat fields and soybeans and corn (fields),” he said.
Using wick applicators is also highly labor-intensive and therefore expensive.
So, let’s hope the people in the white coats can come up with a solution, and soon.
A breakthrough might be at hand for eliminating the scourge of Phragmities. BASF Canada, Engage Agro’s told the Ontario Phragmites Working Group, which includes conservation officers, field naturalists, and rural homeowners, that a product calked Arsenal Powerline “delivers effective Phragmites control by stopping the development of new growth.” The company says treated plants stay green during the application year “maintaining habitat for any established wildlife” – but don’t allow the plants to regrow next spring. Even better, the native plant vegetation will “re-establish in treated areas and continue to further develop throughout subsequent years.” (Company photo shows results of herbicide use.) – 29/4/16