Phragmites: not all bad?

Phragmites australis vom Vorjahr

Image via Wikipedia

You can’t call phragmites an ugly plant. Standing tall, sometimes 13 ft. tall at full maturity, swaying in the breezes with its large wispy seed heads, it is a handsome plant. It is the common reed, a perennial grass that spreads by rhizomes and seeds and is quickly invading fresh and brackish waters and salt water marshes and steadily advancing across America. We have heard it called nasty, invasive and obnoxious and we cut it back, we burn it, we poison it… but is it all bad?

Yesterday I was privileged to hear a presentation by Carl Hershner, Director, Center for Coastal Resources Management and an Associate Professor of Marine Science at Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Dr. Hershner spoke to the Garden Club of Virginia on shoreline erosion and management plans for shoreline stability in this era of global warming and rising waters.

Mentioned in his presentation was phragmites. Truth be told, it is a scary plant. It does invade and it does establish monocultures that displace native plants and it does trap sediment, eventually replacing water with sediment. But it’s not all bad, he says.

Roots prevent the erosional forces of water and Dr. Hershner reported that the root system of phragmites has been more effective than spartina for preventing soil erosion in some areas he has visited. Phragmities has an extensive root system that grows deep below the rhizomes. Whether you do hate or you accept it, Phragmites is here to stay. If you plan to take steps to eradicate it from an area, you should include plans for replacing the erosion control function that phragmites currently provides.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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