Native phragmites fights back!
Survey crew reports new sightings
Over the summer, the Keweenaw Invasive Species Management Area (KISMA) Phragmites Crew surveyed over one hundred miles of shoreline looking for invasive Phragmites (Phragmites australis ssp. australis).
Invasive Phragmites is a grass species that is originally from Eurasia that threatens lakes, rivers, and other wetland ecosystems.
From previous surveys, KISMA has reported only five known locations of invasive Phragmites in Houghton County. Every growing season threatens to bring new patches of invasive Phragmites. If not managed, invasive Phragmites will out-compete native vegetation, causing a variety of ecological and economic problems. That’s where KISMA’s Phragmites Crew comes in!
Their main goal was to survey and monitor sites throughout Houghton, Keweenaw, and Baraga counties to find any additional sites of invasive Phragmites that may require management, and to keep an eye out for other important invasive and native species. KISMA is wrapping up this several year project, which was a partnership between all five UP Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas, the Upper Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development Council, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
Not all Phragmites are harmful to ecosystems. Unlike its invasive, European counterpart, native Phragmites (Phragmites australis ssp. americanus) has been a part of wetland plant assemblages in North America for over 3000 years, based on research by Niering and Warren (1977), who found remains of native Phragmites in peat cores of Connecticut.
Native Phragmites provide important habitat for wildlife, including shade and nesting habitat for native waterfowl according to research by Martin, Erickson, and Steenis (1957) on how control of weedy species in marshes can improve overall duck habitat.
While surveying for invasive Phragmites, the crew was also on the lookout for this beneficial native plant. New patches of native Phragmites were found throughout the Keweenaw. Now that the growing season for Phragmites has ended and surveys are complete for the year, the crew can happily report that no new stands of invasive Phragmites were found this summer. Instead, new stands of native Phragmites this year were found along Thayer Lake, Huron Bay, Bailey Lake, Osma Plat Road, and the Sturgeon River among others.
How to Identify Native Phragmites
To identify native Phragmites, look for red coloring at the base of the stems, few dead leaves remaining attached to the stem, round fungal spots on the stem, and wide ligules between 0.4 and 1 mm. A ligule is a thin, membranous outgrowth of a plant that is found between a leaf and the stem. Both invasive and native Phragmites will have hairs on their ligules, while other grasses won’t have this feature. While many Phragmites physical characteristics overlap between the native and invasive species, these four characteristics are often conclusive.
Knowing more native species are growing throughout the Keweenaw counties informs us that many of our ecosystems are healthy. However, invasive species such as invasive Phragmites can appear at any time, so prevention continues to be our main goal for this species. To prevent more invasive Phragmites from establishing in our area, it is important to always clean, drain, and dry boats and fishing equipment before moving to different water bodies or wetland areas. It’s important to keep looking for invasive species in our area-small, young patches are much easier to treat than large, established monocultures. If you think you have found an invasive species and would like more information, you can go to the MISIN website, https://www.misin.msu.edu/ or contact KISMA at email@example.com for help with identification or guidance on management.
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Lauren Fliearman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Applied Ecology and Environmental Sciences undergraduate; Emily Klawiter (email@example.com) is the Keweenaw Invasive Species Management Area, Assistant Coordinator