What’s NOT Here at Lathrop: Phragmites

by Barbara Walvoord

As you drive from the east campus north on Florence Road, near Ravenwold (where I took this picture), or along almost any Valley road that passes wetlands, look for a stand of tall, dried reeds with droopy fringed heads. These are Phragmites australis (frag MITE eeze), also called “common reed.”

These plants are real goons. They:

  • Eliminate competition by killing other plants–crowding them and changing the soil
  • Fail to provide shelter or food needed by our native toads, frogs, salamanders, and wetland birds
  • Form a dense mat that reduces water flow, reducing the wetland’s ability to retain flood waters
  • Trap sediments, making the water body increasingly shallow
  • (http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dcr/watersupply/lakepond/factsheet/phragmites.pdf)

Phragmites are very hard to eradicate because that stand you see is basically all one plant, with the stalks connected by deep, underground rhizomes that just send up new shoots again after you cut, burn, mow, or poison the leaves and stalks. Use of herbicides in wetlands is especially difficult; you may remember the flap last year when the Broad Brook Coalition used herbicide to attack phragmites at Fitzgerald Lake.


It’s hard to overstate what a marvelous blessing it is that our land has so far been spared, though phragmites is all around us.

So, Citizen Vigilantes, as you walk our land, keep an eye out for phragmites. You’ll see them among our cattails (which are native and serve many good ecological purposes) or on any land that is slightly wet. If you see one, sound the alarm. Early, small infestations can be destroyed by digging them out or repeatedly cutting them down. Keep our land safe from this very nasty invasive. Our turtles, salamanders, frogs, and toads will thank you.


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