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Niagara Falls
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
Nature’s Lens: The mighty phragmite

Invasive species are a part of nature. The natural world procures many curious cycles and sequences, some of which seem rather unfair to the human perspective. For example, how could just one species ruin it for so many others? The “others” remind the kids in the classroom that suffered an extra long detention- just because that one other kid acted out. I remember those days. I was in elementary school.

Around the same age of my life, I would bike around St. Davids and Queenston at my leisure. I started to notice some scenery changes along my usual travels, and one year it hit me- how is this one type of plant, whatever this tall reed or monstrous weed is, seemingly everywhere now? Many of the irrigation ditches of the Lines and Concessions are now clogged with the infamous phragmites (“frag-mighty’s”).

If you look on Google Earth, you can see a string of “gold” running the entirety of Concession 1 road. 

This aggressive perennial grass, native to Eurasia, is massive in stature and grows in impenetrable stocks, each stock loaded with a couple thousand seeds on its head. It out-competes native vegetation and outsmarts our infrastructure, costing Ontarions time and money to fight it. What is the mechanism for so much pugnacity? Rhizomes (a root structure under the ground) radiate out in every direction with a high density of fresh budding roots and shoots popping off of it. This root system travels subterranean style, making the plant nearly impossible to eradicate once it establishes large stands. It also travels by wind, water, and animals or human activities.

The wall of plant material created becomes impassible by native turtles species, which can normally navigate through our native wetland grasses. When the biodiversity of wetlands and shoreline areas drop, suddenly the head count of associated insects, amphibians, and birds go with it.

Invasive species tend to have such negative cascade effects on ecosystems all over the world, at small and large scales alike. The notable disturbances are signs that nature’s niches were already in their right place, generally hovering at an equilibrium- and now thrown off balance. The predators were eating the right amount of other animals, and those animals were eating the right amount of plants. When a foreign species is suddenly placed in a system that isn’t prepared for its influence, the entire ecosystem can flip. We could discuss a whole other suite of invasive species in NOTL that have literally changed our lives in this town, including zebra mussels and emerald ash borers.

The alien species often win, and are unfortunately so good at what they do. I’ve always had concerns about developments adjacent to wetlands, as phragmites only needs a gust of wind or a ride on a truck tire to break through. Speaking of breaking, one time I leapt through a wall of phragmites only to have a piece of broken plant, like plastic, emerge from my back 2 weeks later. It snapped off inside of me- I can confirm through my studies and personal experiences that it is one hardy plant. 

With an unknown shipment method, it is perhaps too late to focus on how it got here, but rather how to control the current situation. This plant will continue to wreak havoc in Niagara and North America unless an ingenious removal solution is formulated. I challenge you to not see phragmites on your next NOTL commute! 

I end this segment with a reminder that my last piece in The Lake Report touched on wine routes in an analogy.

Now, if we had a few glasses of wine over this article, we would chat about who or what the most profound invasive species really is.


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