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The Problems with Monoculture Stands of Phragmites with Geoff Walker

Geoff Walker, Newbury Selectman, leads us through a mature stand of Phragmites on Ring Island to illustrate what happens when the invasive reed is allowed to expand without a rigorous remediation program.

Session Date Rough Edit Transcript Tight Edit Youtube Posting
8/14/13 8/28/13 1/6/14 1/9/14 1/17/14

Geoff Walker trying to make his way through the dense reeds in a stand of Phragmites
Geoff Walker trying to make his way through the dense reeds in a stand of Phragmites on Ring Island.
We’re down behind Ring’s Island next to Ferry Road and you can see that this is a very significant stand of Phragmites. If you were to walk straight through these Phragmites you’d end up in the Atlantic ocean, probably right where the Merrimack River meets the Atlantic ocean. You can see the osprey poles beside us. In fact, there’s a late-nesting osprey you can see on the third pole down. If you get caught in this stand of Phragmites in the evening, and you couldn’t get out before dark, you better have a compass.

We’re heading into this Phrag stand and it’s pretty good size. You gotta watch out for cricks. And, that osprey pole right there, which is the one that doesn’t have the bird on, we probably want to keep our eye on that because that’s the way we’re going to be able to find our way back out of this. We’ve got a lot of wind today. You’re gonna hear the noise of walking in the Phrag. Now, you can see as we start into this, you can see there’s still some Distichlis that’s still growing in this monoculture. But, as we get out further, and it gets heavier and the vegetation density increases, you’re not going to see any native grasses growing in the middle of this.

Wow, when you get up to me, when you come across, you’re gonna see a big deer run right here. The deer having been using this to hide themselves – to run up and down this.

Woah, we’re getting down into it now! We don’t have any native grasses in this distinct monoculture now. The Phrags have shielded, they’ve just outcompeted anything that belongs in a marsh. All this stuff that’s cracking under our feet is also last year’s thatch, and what this thatch does is it lays down on top of each other in crisscrosses like this, and it creates elevation. And, that elevation traps rain water, and it doesn’t like high salinities anyway, so this shows you it creates its own habitat – it creates its own environment. It’s one tough plant. Look how tall this is. It’s way over our heads here.

Well, we’re right under the osprey pole. It took us a long time to even get that far.

I tell you, when you walk up here, you can actually see where, just because of this little opening, that some of the native marsh grasses are starting to try to re-vegetate, and that’s why what we’re doing is so significant – it’s so important what we’re doing and trying to get rid of these large monocultures so some of the native grasses can reestablish themselves. I mean, when you walk up there, you can see some of the patens (Spartina patens) just trying to grab on again.

Can you see how thick that is, Rick? Look at it. Oh man, what we need to do is open that up so we can get some native growth in there. That’s why it’s so imperative that we’re doing what we’re doing.

And you know what’s really wild? I’ve seen it worse than this. I mean, we’re only in 8, 10’s, 11’s – I’ve seen it taller than this. But I have to tell you one thing, it’s pretty dense.

I tell you what, if it were night time and you didn’t have a flashlight and you couldn’t see your trail out of here, you better go to sleep ‘til the sun comes up.

Woah! Guess what I ran into again. You got the camera? Look at this. I’m telling you, you really could – you see that now? Look at that. How would that be for a tumble down the banking? How’s that? Another day in the Phrags!

We’re actually heading back out and we’re going back out on the path we came in on. And I mean, if you look down – I’ve said before, but – there’s nothing growing here. All our native vegetation is definitely just outcompeted – the sun’s taken away. It’s created its own habitat by all the thatch lying on top of each other and trapping fresh water. I mean this plant, I’ll tell you, when you talk about danger in the reeds, this is a perfect example. This has taken over this marsh. We’ve got to find ways to knock this plant back or we’re gonna lose all our significant wildlife values because this plant takes everything away.

I got to be honest with you, what you’re looking at right now is the plant I hate the most. This is my enemy. This is what I’ve dedicated a large part of my life – and Peter Fippin and Gregg Moore. I tell you what, we have got to be able to stabilize our marsh and fight back the invasives because the marsh can’t do it by itself.

But I mean when the wind blows that Phragmites they almost seem pretty, but you got to remember, we just walked only five- or six-hundred yards into that and it was so thick. It was hard walking. There was no native vegetation underfoot. It is totally taking away our broad marsh that is so valuable. And like I’ve said over and over and over again, our marsh needs help, and our Great Marsh cannot do it by itself. We need to help the Great Marsh. This is an invasive, destructive plant and we need to bring it under control.

At least we’re back out where there is some marsh grasses and some golden rod and some altiflora (Spartina altiflora), but look, this guy still wants to follow me – he’s still staying attached. That’s really thick. If you can pan back over that at all, you can see the height to that. I mean, we’ve got to do something to protect our marsh against these invasives because, like I’ve always said, the marsh right now can’t do it on its own.

Geoff Walker talks about the monoculture stand of Phragmites
Geoff Walker talks about the problems
a monoculture stand of Phragmites creates for native plants and animals.

Danger in the Reeds is being produced by Staddles Productions
with the help of Dr Gregg Moore, Peter Phippen and Geoff Walker.

We would all like to express our graditude to our many Kickstarter supporters
without whom this project would not be possible.

Rick Hydren  ~ Office: 978-948-3346, Cell: 508-954-1298
PO Box 715, Rowley MA 01969


Portrait Photography ~ Real Estate Photography