Meeting to be held to discuss threat of invasive marsh grass

Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Aug 18, 2010 - 03:13 PM

Phragmites is running rampant in Mathews County, and the county’s master gardeners want residents to help put a stop to the invasion.

A one-hour meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 1, at Kingston Episcopal Church parish house to provide information on the threats the plant presents and on ways to control it. Paul Clark, Eastern District Manager of the Virginia Division of Natural Heritage, will give a talk and answer questions.

Bev Holmberg of the Mathews County Master Gardeners said she recently discovered a half-acre stand of the invasive European strain of phragmites (the American strain is acceptable) on her property at North. Because it is behind a piece of woodland, she hadn’t noticed it before and only saw it when she took a stroll along the shoreline. Her husband, Neil, mowed it down with the lawnmower, but Holmberg said that is only a temporary solution.

Phragmites, pronounced "frag–mite–eez," is a threat because its long, deep, traveling root system chokes out native marsh grasses, destroying the natural habitat of local birds and other animals. The stems grow packed so tightly together that most species can’t get between them to nest, and the plant has no nutritional value for native wildlife.

"The only bird that can get through it is the red-wing blackbird," said Holmberg.

In addition, phragmites slows water movement and increases mosquito breeding activity, blocks drainage and irrigation ditches, and increases the risk and intensity of wildfires.

Holmberg has started seeing phragmites all over the county. She said it’s popping up in all the ditches along Route 14, and it’s starting to invade the beaches all along Bayside.

Some people she has talked to say they like the plant for one reason or another. In one neighborhood, it’s growing along the ditches and forming a natural privacy fence between properties. But Holm-
berg said property owners need to beware when the plant is that close to their homes—its roots are so deep and dense that they can take over a septic tank drainfield.

Some people she’s talked to say they like it along the shoreline for erosion control. If that’s the case, she said, it’s best to control the spread by being diligent about mowing right up to the edge of the stand.

Holmberg said phragmites is "disrupting our ecosystem," and she hopes Mathews residents will join in a collective effort to stop its spread.

For more information, call Mathews Cooperative Extension office at 725-7196.