Towering reeds are choking off native plant and wildlife across Ontario and a comprehensive rescue plan has yet to materialize.
Phragmites, invasive reeds from Eurasia, were called Canada’s worst invasive plant by the federal government in 2005.
Eight years later, the innocuous though sometimes staggeringly tall common reeds, are a virtual mainstay along roadside ditches and marshlands throughout southwestern Ontario.
The Eurasian native species grows up to five metres high and crowds out wildlife and other plantlife with far-reaching roots that secrete toxins into the soil, impeding or killing other plants. It’s dense growth — sometimes there are 200 stems per square metre — results in absolute conquest of the area in which it takes hold.
Wetland ecologist Janice Gilbert, who’s been working with a group in Port Franks to control the reed along the shores of Lake Huron, says the interiors of massive phragmites groupings become dead zones. All that are left are phragmites.
Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources website meanwhile says its working with other government and non-governmental agencies to come up with the best ways of controlling the prolific reed.
Physically removing it, burning, flooding or pesticide are some of the ways listed to deal with the troublesome plant.
But local environmental groups are facing an uphill battle in the meantime to control phragmites.
The Port Franks group has been battling an invasion in Lambton Shores for several years and has had to independently track down thousands of dollars to fund efforts to remove phragmites and restore wetlands.
If the task of eradicating phragmites without government funding is as difficult as the group says, a concrete plan with how to deal with the plants can’t come fast enough.
Gilbert is working on such a plan with the municipal council in Lambton Shores, which includes Port Franks.
Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton also says he’s planning to arrange a meeting between the Port Franks group and the Minister of Natural Resources.
Meanwhile Lambton County council approved $50,000 in March to spray and mow phragmites that are filling about 30% of many rural ditches. It’s hoped less expensive spot treatments will be all that’s needed to control what grows back.
The plants have also taken hold in Chatham-Kent. Hundreds were burned out of Rondeau Bay six years ago in an effort to restore native plant life.
But localized eradication efforts won’t be a panacea.
An effective plan to keep the invasive species at bay is urgently needed to preserve native species.