(WINDSOR, ON) – An insidious reed is taking over the city. Its sentinels, with their fluffy seed caps, seem innocuous enough but, given time, the destructive plant takes over. It is especially omnipresent along EC Row Expressway and in Malden Park.
Known as Phragmites australis, it is a pariah recognized as Canada’s worst invasive plant species.
Its origins are European. First spotted locally in the 1940s, its progression has been pernicious. It works to eradicate every other plant around it, including endangered species.
Phragmites can adjust its height up to five metres, if necessary, to commandeer sunlight and, says invadingspecies.com, releases, “… toxins from its roots into the soil to hinder the growth of and kill surrounding plants.”
Phragmites are being blamed for damaging the province’s biodiversity, wetlands, and beaches. It will root in wet areas, where herbicide use is prohibited, and dry areas where it pushes its roots down deep to find water.
Because it can grow high, it often becomes a traffic hazard. Its dead stalks can also fuel fires.
Apparently, the only method to eradicate the nuisance is chemicals. Trying to plow it under doesn’t work because of its extensive underground root system, which can stretch up to 20 metres. In a recent news release, Pierre Petelle, a chemist at CropLife Canada, reported the current best way to deal with the nuisance is a well-timed herbicide treatment.
“Unlike other removal methods, herbicides get to the roots of the problem, effectively killing the entire plant,” Petelle said. “Traditional methods like cutting, if done without a herbicide treatment, can actually make the problem worse by stimulating further growth and damaging the surrounding ecosystem.”
In Kingsville, the invader took over the town’s municipal drains, cutting off water flow. The fight, now in its fourth year, is detailed on the Ontario Invasive Plant Council website in the Ontario Phragmites working group section.
One of its most aggressive fighters is St Thomas. The city plans to be Phragmites-free in three years and has enlisted the help of Chatham-based Dover Agri-Serve, one of the province’s acknowledged Phragmites warriors.
Windsor has passed the mid-point in a two-year pilot project to find ways to control the reed. Different methods are being tested in different types of geography. The city has, so far, not released the results of its efforts.