Bartlett Invasives 2010

Battle of the Phrag Waged by Laurie Tuck, Cindy Bober and Kimberly Bryant-Smith

Phragmites is particularly prolific because it can establish itself in three ways: seed dispersal, underground stems called rhizomes, and aboveground runners called stolons. If an aerial shoot is knocked down, it can act like a rhizome and produce new shoots. If the underground stems are cut, they can produce new shoots. The word phragmites comes from the Greek word phragma meaning fence. It is aptly named. Upon visiting the “problem area” we were faced with a 10 foot tall, 50 foot long, and 10 foot wide patch that was largely growing in knee deep water with a very mucky bottom.
The First Sortee – July 26th
Armed with many tools and a roll of twine, we decided to cut the phragmites to ground level where possible and bundle it up into sheaves. The sheaves were placed in a sunny area to dry and see if they would re-root. We left a buffer zone of phragmites that was in deep water to avoid soil compaction in the pond. Within one hour we saw that the remaining phragmites had fallen down into the pond.
After this day, two experiments were conducted:
1) All cuttings were piled onto dry land to see if they would re-grow – They did not.
2) Additional cuttings were placed in cups of water. The result was that the phragmites placed in water re-grew as long as the node was in contact with the water. If there was no node, even in contact with water, it did not re-grow.
The Battle Resumes – August
On this day, Cindy wisely provided rubber gloves for us and we waded into the phragmites stand. We observed one foot tall vertical shoots emanating from the fallen phragmites in the water, thus supporting the results of the 2nd experiment. We also observed one foot tall shoots scattered in the cut area. These consisted primarily of growth from small shoots that had not been cut originally and also a few suckering shoots from higher cut stalks. We noticed that stalks cut higher than 6 inches re-grew at the cut edge. We ground cut outlying plants in the higher, drier area that had gotten taller since the first cutting day. We pulled fallen plants out of the water and observed large root clusters coming from every node. Two more workdays were spent cutting down re-growth. We believed we were winning as the re-growth appeared to be less each time. We pulled the rooted sections in the deep water up with the knowledge that any root fragments remaining at that depth would drown and we did not want further spread into even more inaccessible deep water. We had some reinforcements as Jane Dooley and Linda Coven joined us.
Until We Meet Again – October 4th
Our last workday was a misty cold October morning – very welcome after some really hot days in the meadow. We mostly cut down remaining stalks and small re-growth from pieces of phragmites that had fallen into the pond. We found and cut some sneaky outliers that seemed to like to mix in with the cattails and other reeds surrounding the pond. A very gratifying point of interest for us was that the disturbed area had filled in completely and there appeared to be very little phragmites coming up. So, we have driven it back for now. As with any worthy adversary, we know it will be back and we’re ready. What We Learned:
• When cutting and removing phragmites, you must be careful to get all the pieces to prevent re-growth when working where cut pieces could fall into damp soil or shallow water.
• When cutting phragmites, you must cut below any nodes, especially in water, to prevent re-growth.
• Placing cut phragmites in a sunny area to dry out will not result in re-growth from the cut pieces.
• We will know next year if repeated cutting at two week intervals over the course of two months is enough to prevent significant re-growth or if another schedule is required.
• It’s a lot more fun to cut phragmites with a few friends…