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Posted: 09/18/13

GROWING PAINS. Seen above are non-native phragmites along Van Dyke in Washington Township. The invasive species of reed is known for growing in dense clusters that damage ecosystems, and have been growing all over the local area in ditches and along trails.

(Observer photo by Chris Gray)

Non-native phragmites
damaging local area

Observer Staff Writer
      These green invaders may not be from outer space, but they're causing problems on a local and statewide level.
       Phragmites australis, a common wetland reed, is damaging wetlands and lakes around Michigan, but are also popping up in local ditches and trails to cause problems for plants and humans alike.
       According to the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative (GLPC), the non-native species of reed was introduced to the East Coast about 200 year ago, but has expanded its reach westward. They now dominate wetlands in southern Michigan, choking coastal marshes and beaches and spreading more than 10 feet a year.
       The species are notorious for growing thick stems and forming dense colonies, letting in no sunlight and threatening local plant life and wildlife. In addition to affecting ecosystems, the GLPC states phragmites are fire hazards due to burning hot and can even reduce property values since they are hard to see through.
       Residents don't have to head to a body of water to see them. A drive along M-53 reveals them on all sides of the expressway, while the invasive plant life can be found all along Van Dyke in Washington Township.
       There is even a large cluster of the plants in front of the Graubner Library, and the stalks line portions of the Macomb Orchard Trail.
       Bruce Township officials have said the plant is spreading all over the township and that it should be investigated.
       "It's an ugly-looking thing, it spreads itself," said Zoning Board of Appeals Chairperson James Carnago on Aug. 28. "Something has to be done."
       District 7 County Commissioner Don Brown said the plants created so much trouble on the trail that the Department of Roads had to cut them down at the 28 and Van Dyke intersection.
       "They're causing people to have limited sight distance, and at a busy intersection that can be dangerous," he said.
       The problem, however, is there is no easy way to kill off the plants. For the time being, Brown said the county is chopping them to keep costs down and visibility up.
       "We don't have a good system yet to get rid of them entirely," he said.
       The plants are causing problems at Stony Creek Metropark as well, with a large batch of them near the Inwood Road portion of the park. Denise Semion, Metroparks communications director, said the park uses glyphosat, commonly known as Round-Up, to control them, and have sprayed the plants ever since 2011.
       "We treat them as much as funding allows," Semion said. "We use herbicide with a hand sprayer in various patches."
       Not all phragmites are non-native. There is a species native to Michigan called Phragmites americanus, meaning a group of phragmites should be identified before trying to control them.
       The quickest way to tell them apart is by color, with the non-native having blue-gray-greenish leaves while natives leaves are a yellowish green hue.
       The non-natives can reach up to 15 feet in height, whereas native species typically reach 6.5 feet in height and grow in scattered stems, allowing sunlight in for other plant life.
       Brown said the county has worked with the Macomb County Department of Health and environmental groups to try and solve the problem, but the county itself doesn't have a management program. He said, however, he would help local governments connect with the right people if the plants are an issue.
       "It's a problem, it's an on-going problem, and it's really a challenge," he said.
       The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality states a permit is required to treat invasive phragmites using herbicides if the plants are in standing water. Mowing or other mechanical treatments are recommended two weeks after chemical treatments.

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