EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

June 17, 2013

Project aims to teach about invasive phragmites

NEWBURY — Four local men have a plan to eradicate “phragmites ignorance.”

This invasive common reed (phragmites australis) spreads quickly, out-competes native plants and is infamous among those familiar with marsh lands around the country. But most people who live and work next to the invasive reed don’t know its name or the degree of harm it’s doing to local wetlands.

Geoff Walker, Peter Phippen, Dr. Gregg Moore and Richard Hydren are hoping to change that by recording the efforts that will be made over this coming growing season to deal with common reed infestation in the Great Marsh in Massachusetts, with the objective of sharing the finished videos freely on YouTube.

Officials at The Trustees of Reservation, Massachusetts Audubon Society, the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Historic New England, Essex County Green Belt Association and Essex National Heritage Commission have all expressed an interest in having the videos available as teaching tools with links on their websites.

The roots of a phragmites plant extend deep into the bog, two to three times deeper than native plants. The reeds reach 12 to 18 feet in height at a density that direct sunlight cannot penetrate.

Even when conditions aren’t ideal, the phragmites plant possesses several methods of expanding into the marsh. First, it can propagate through seed. Second, it expands through fast-growing roots and rhizomes (underground stems). Third, it increases in size through above-ground runners — each capable of producing countless stems along their length. Even the smallest phragmites patch can expand — doubling, tripling or more — from one growing season to the next if conditions suit.

In winter, the tall dried stems are a major fire hazard with many stands abutting homes and business properties.

Efforts to control the spread of the invasive plant have been underfunded for years, with mostly local money being invested.

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