Take part in our Citizen Scientist Opportunity
Funding for this project is generously provided by the Invasive Species Centre
Citizen input is crucial to helping to ‘stem the tide’ of Invasive Phragmites that is taking over wetlands and destroying the habitat of turtles, frogs, snakes and wetland birds.
We need your help! Please let us know if and where you’ve seen Phragmites in your community. It is so widespread that it is impossible to find it all ourselves, and our best sources are people who live in and know their community. Local experts (psst .. that’s YOU!) are crucial in helping rid our landscape of this invasive species. You can report any sightings of Invasive Phragmites online, by mobile app, or by phone.
How to report it
We encourage people to report sightings of Invasive Phragmites on the EDDMapS app or website, OR by phone, with the Invading Species Hotline.
What is it?
Invasive Phragmites (Phragmites australis or Common Reed) is one of Canada’s WORST invasive species! It is a perennial grass that destroys biodiversity, especially within wetlands and beaches as it alters the habitat and weakens the balance of local ecosystems. It spreads quickly and aggressively via its roots, root fragments, and by the seeds – one seedhead can produce up to 2,000 seeds per year!
Habitat: Invasive Phragmites thrives in recently disturbed and moist areas. You’ll often see Phragmites in ditches or along roadways, near constructed wetlands, or wherever there was movement of soil.
Why is it bad? InvasivePhragmites outcompetes native species for water, nutrients, space, and light. Once started, Invasive Phragmites will prevent native species from establishing in a new area. It has an extensive root system that can spread quickly. Invasive Phragmites is allelopathic, meaning it releases chemicals into the soil that restrict the growth of other, usually native, species.
- Habitat: Does not provide appropriate habitat or food for native wetland birds, amphibians, turtles and insects
- Grows very dense (200 stems per square metre) and crowds out other (native) species
- Changes wetlands and groundwater; it soaks up more water than native vegetation and can dry up wetlands
- Can alter the flow of water and/or completely block drainage ditches
- Decomposes very slowly. Few nutrients will return to the soil after they die.
- Agriculture may be negatively affected by crowding out crops or taking up most of the water in the ground
- Recreational activities may be negatively affected, e.g., swimming, boating, angling. Invasive Phragmites can block boat launches, block views, and can even damage foundations and concrete
- Property values may decrease (for similar reasons)
- Large stands are considered a fire hazard (due to the buildup of dead, dry stalks)
- Road safety hazards are possible (it grows up to 15 ft. tall and can create blind corners)
Photo: Western Chorus Frog by Ryan Wolfe
What does it look like?
Invasive Phragmites has tan or beige stems with blue-green leaves and large, dense seed heads at the top. It can grow up to 5 metres (15 feet) tall. Seed heads start out as a purplish-brown colour but turn into a white to tan colour and become fluffy once the seeds mature in the fall. Late in the season the stalks start to die – they drop their leaves and become a yellow-beige colour, and seed heads become very fluffy.
The native species of Phragmites does not grow as tall and doesn’t outcompete other native species. It is often seen growing among other plants or vegetation, and not in dense monocultures like the Invasive Phragmites. Native Phragmites has reddish-brown stems, yellow-green leaves, and sparser, smaller seed heads.
How does it spread?
Invasive Phragmites spreads mainly by its seeds or root fragments via wind and water. They can also stick to clothes or machinery, which is why cleaning off clothing and any machines is important before leaving and entering different areas. Invasive Phragmites is also capable of putting out runners and spreading laterally. One seedhead can produce up to 2,000 seeds per year, and up to 200 stems may exist in one square-metre area!
Photo by Janice Gilbert, ISC
What to do if you find it?
Managing Invasive Phragmites
If you find Invasive Phragmites anywhere (including on your own property, along a road, etc.) you should report it (see below).
If you’d like to remove Invasive Phragmites from your property, consult: “Invasive Phragmites – Best Management Practices in Ontario” by the Ontario Invasive Plant Council that outlines the best ways to manage it. You can find it online for free here or you can ask to have it sent to you for free.
Reporting: Even if you’ve removed it from your property, it is still important to report it as it helps researchers understand the extent of the spread throughout the province and in our local area.
Managing Invasive Phragmites often takes multiple efforts per year, and for subsequent years, since it is so persistent and good at coming back.
- One method to remove Invasive Phragmites is to spade it or cut it just below the soil surface where the stalk attaches to its rhizome (root). This works well when there are other plants nearby that you don’t want to dig up or disturb.
- If the Invasive Phragmites population is in shallow water or in an area that is known to flood seasonally or after a large rainfall, you can cut the stalk below the water line – this will drown the plant and starve it of oxygen, which kills it. This is best done in the spring or summer, but can be done in the fall.
- You can also help prevent it from spreading by cutting off the seed heads before they have matured and spread in the wind. This won’t kill the plant but will help prevent the population from growing larger
- The Best Management Practices for Invasive Phragmites document (linked above) describes in detail all of these methods and more.
- Do not intentionally plant it. It is a restricted species.
- Avoid spreading its seeds, roots, and plant fragments: stay on trails when walking in areas that have Invasive Phragmites, and clean off your clothes, pets, shoes, or machinery/tools before leaving an area that has Invasive Phragmites
- DO NOT COMPOST IT – it will likely survive and start to grow in your compost!
- Bag the seeds and stalks and let them decompose. Rotten Phragmites can be burned or brought to the landfill.
- Carefully burn the green stalks (they are very flammable) and burn the seed heads only after they have dried out.
- Dry out stalks and seeds under a tarp in the sun for 1-3 weeks, then bag them and bring to the landfill, or burn them.
- Leave the stalks to decompose, but bag up any seed heads so they don’t spread.
Photo: Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative
Contacts for more information:
- Quinte Conservation: firstname.lastname@example.org or (613) 968-3434
- Or your own local conservation authority
What is Ontario Doing?
Ontario organizations and researchers are currently studying how Invasive Phragmites spreads and how to most effectively manage it. Ontario’s Invasive Species Act has listed Invasive Phragmites as restricted, making it illegal to import, grow, transport, sell, release, buy or trade invasive species (it is not illegal to transport it or release it if you are trying to manage or control it). (https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/s15022 and https://www.ontario.ca/page/invasive-species-ontario).
Many conservation authorities, non-profit organizations (and more) all over Ontario are working together to help control Invasive Phragmites. See the links below to explore some of the organizations that are helping prevent the spread!
- Fact Sheet http://www.invadingspecies.com/download/invasive-phragmites-fact-sheet/?wpdmdl=1547&refresh=62348c7a1e33c1647611002
- Field Guide http://www.invadingspecies.com/download/phragmites-field-guide/?wpdmdl=1548&refresh=62348c7a290f91647611002
- BMP Guide http://www.invadingspecies.com/download/invasive-phragmites-best-management-practices-guide/?wpdmdl=1549&refresh=62348c7a2fcf11647611002
- BMPs 2021 https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/OIPC_BMP_Phragmites_April302021_D10_WEB.pdf
- Technical Bulletin https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Final-Phragmites-2021.pdf
- Site Prioritization tool https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/OPWG_PrioritizationTool_May52016_FINAL.pdf
- Spading method and tips https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/OPWG-Spading-Postcard-1.pdf
- Cut-to-drown method https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/OPWG-Cut-to-Drown-Postcard-5.pdf
- Invasive Species Act: https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/s15022