This 5-Metre Tall Reed Is Spelling Disaster For Ontario Wetlands

Phragmites has been named Canada’s worst invasive plant. Here are a few things that you can do to limit the spread.

(Photo Credit: Conrad Kuiper)

While you might not have heard the name, you’ve certainly spotted the plant—most notably in the form of 5-metre tall reed clusters framing either side of the 400-series highways.

The European Common Reed, or Phragmites, is an invasive, semi-aquatic reed that for decades now has rapidly spread throughout Ontario’s wetlands and along its beaches. Now, it can even be found roadside, inhibiting drainage in the ditches along major commuter routes.

While native species of the ‘phrag’ (as it’s colloquially known) tend to grow in clustered areas that aren’t damaging to the environment, invasive phrag can quickly take over an entire wetland community. The ecological impacts of this species are high—as phrag spreads, it beats out the native flora for life-giving resources like nutrients and water. A potent toxin released from its root system quickly kills neighbouring plants, solidifying its resource monopoly and creating incredibly dense patches impenetrable to wildlife. The implications of this spread can be severe—invasions of Phragmites even increase the potential for fires.

Recreational activities suffer from the presence of this plant as well. Since it’s so difficult to remove and contain, beaches with high densities of phrag often become unsuitable for water-based activities like fishing and swimming.

All in all, the doom and gloom of Phragmites is real: In 2005, it was identified as Canada’s worst invasive plant. Despite strong citizen initiatives to remove the plant—the “Phragbusters” are one such group—it continues to persist. Typically spreading via high winds and water, its range continues to increase as it hitches rides on heavy-equipment transporters. 

The battle against Phragmites, however, is one that can be joined by concerned citizens such as yourselves. Here are a few actions you can take to help prevent the spread! 


Spot the Difference

Differentiating between native and invasive species of phrag involves examining the size and density of the patch as well as stem colour. Invasive Phragmites is characterized by large, dense patches of tall reeds with large seed heads. Native Phragmites consists of smaller patches of shorter reeds mixed in with other plant species. Invasive phrag has a tan coloured stem, whereas the stems of native phrag are more reddish in colour. A guide to identifying invasive versus native phrag can be found here.

(Photo Credit: Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council)

Limit the Spread

Being aware of how your own outdoor activities may be facilitating the spread of this species greatly restricts the range of its spread. When hiking in affected areas, stay on marked trails and keep dogs/companion animals on leashes to avoid contact with seed pods. If you do happen to come into contact with invasive Phragmites, thoroughly clean off your clothing, equipment, pets, and vehicles before leaving the area. Be sure to clean off any mud you may have tracked into your vehicle, which may contain spores.

(Photo Credit: Matt Bradford-Aunger)

For more information on how invasive Phragmites is impacting Lake Erie and local marsh-nesting birds, check out Part 1 of Bird Studies Canada’s publication on environmental issues affecting Lake Erie.

Help address Phragmites and other pressing issues. Support the Lake Erie Challenge today!