We Need Your Help!

We Need Your Help!
By Dorene Trunk

There is an invader on our beaches, and most of us allow this clever, attractive survivor to establish itself and destroy our land. We complain about low water, high water, and who owns what while our beaches are being stolen by this aggressive thief. If we do not put a stop to it, we will lose many of our sandy beaches just as parts of Lake Erie and Lake Michigan have.

I am talking about invasive Phragmites (pronounced FRAG-MIGHT-EEZE) australis, also known as Common Reed. Phragmites is a perennial grass that starts out with attractive green stalks in the Spring, turns brown later in the Summer, and can reach as high as 5 metres. By late August, soft gray/brown tufts of seeds appear on the tops of the stalks. You will find Common Reed growing in ditches, wetlands, and now you will find it has taken hold at a number of Tiny’s beaches. It thrives on wet terrain and one single attractive plant, with its charming feathery plumes can result, in a few years, in a dense stand of tall foliage, with which indigenous plants are unable to compete. One innocent-looking plume can discharge many lightweight minute seeds, which are carried by wind, birds and water to germinate elsewhere, while underground the plant is sending rhizomes deeper and deeper and on the surface of the ground is busy sending runners farther and farther.

This type of Common Reed is not native to Canada, though there is a native version: it is thought to have come from Europe and Asia. In bygone days, it was used for spears and boats; it is still used for thatched roofs.

Action is needed to stop Common Reed from taking over Tiny:

The Michigan and Ohio Departments of Natural Resources have been researching and fighting Common Reed for a decade. They have established many test sites and tried many methods of eradication – most with little success. According to Geoff Peach of the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation, some funding for studies in Canada has come from the federal government, but much more is needed. We’ll have to do much of this ourselves.

The accepted way to deal with Common Reed in the USA is adopt a multi-pronged approach, which includes cutting and spraying (and sometimes burning and covering).

seed plumes (l.young r.mature)

The time to cut Phragmites is when most of its energy has gone into the flowering head, but before the seeds have set. In Tiny Township, the ideal moment probably occurs in the first or second week of August. At this point, the plants have put the maximum amount of energy into its stalks above ground. Cutting then weakens the plant, but probably won’t kill it. Application of a specific herbicide is the only known method of effectively killing the plant’s roots and rhizomes. (Glyphosate and imazapyr are both mentioned in literature on Common Reed and we understand that research is being done with several other herbicides.) But, applications must be done by a provincially licensed professional and will probably need to be done several years in a row. In the States spraying is done by helicopter.

Note: In Canada, glyphosate-based herbicides cannot be used OVER water. They can, however, be used NEAR water by experienced professionals.

Beach associations and private owners need to learn to recognize the plant and to report where stands of it are growing. Action should be taken while patches of Phragmites are small and can still be contained and, eventually, eradicated.

Great care must be taken so that plant parts are not dispersed to other locations by equipment and so that parts of the rhizomes and long surface runners do not establish new plants.

Cutting at the wrong times or continuous cutting is not recommended by the MNR or any group with expertise on this subject. Recurrent cutting encourages Phragmites to grow like grass, which it is. After cutting, the ground is covered with sharp bamboo like spikes, while the rhizomes beneath accelerate their growth.

On land laid bare by constant cutting but with an underlying thicket of rhizomes, natural beach grass will not establish itself and sand dunes cannot grow.


As the plant spreads primarily by means of rhizomes, long term management requires complete control of the rhizomes. The best path to follow is to kill the patch of Phragmites and then to plant species that are natural to the area. Experts recommend planting Marram (American Beach) grass, and protecting it with temporary sand fencing.

At the end of March, FoTTSA drew the need for action to the attention of CAO/Clerk Doug Luker and to Council. Council recognized the urgency of the situation and accepted the recommendations in the report Mr. Luker prepared for Council’s meeting on April 28. A consultant is to be hired to identify where Common Reed has taken hold on Township property. Education and communication are to be a focus. Already, Bonita Desroches, Community Recreation Coordinator, has helped to prepare an informative display at the Township Offices on ‘Earth Day’.

The Township will let everyone know how and where to report locations of stands of Phragmites on private land. If the extent of the problem is clearly understood by the end of this summer, the Township should be able to engage an expert to undertake spraying in May/June next year. The Township will be preparing information sheets about when and how to cut Common Reed stands this summer, so that its spread can be held to a minimum.

Control of Phragmites along the Great Lakes. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Land and Water Management, August 2007.

See www.michigan.gov/deqwetlands and then do a search for the title of the pamphlet.

Field Guide for Control of Common Reed (Phragmites australis) on Lake Huron Beaches. Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation, 2007. See www.lakehuron.on.ca > Publications > Reports, Guides and Plans

A Guide to the Control and Management of Invasive Phragmites. See