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Red Deer County News

Posted on: October 17, 2018

New Invader Discovered: Phragmites Australis

Phragmites Australis (1)

Last month a suspect plant, believed to be Phragmites australis, was discovered in an industrial park in Red Deer County. Samples were taken and sent off to the provincial lab for DNA testing to confirm whether the grass was a native Phragmites or the invasive subspecies. Unfortunately it was confirmed to be the later.

Phragmites is a perennial grass with a world-wide distribution, including native North American species. The invasive Phragmites australis is believed to have been introduced to North America from other continents and has a much more aggressive genotype which is allowing it to out-compete our native vegetation in its preferred ecosystem. This combined with lacking any natural selection pressure such as predators, diseases etc., has allowed invasive Phragmites to spread and establish extremely quickly across North America. Phragmites threatens native ecosystems by displacing native plant life, which ultimately affects the entire ecosystem. The immense amount of biomass that is produced also creates problems for human activities such as boating and sport fishing, also water sightline problems, and poses as a huge fire hazard.

The upright grass is capable of growing in a wide range of conditions. Freshwater to brackish water, but it prefers stationary or slow-mowing water, and can grow in up to 1m of water depth. It can grow in fine clay soil to sandy loams. The most noticeable feature of invasive Phragmites is its size. It can grow 2-4m in height. It’s believed the roots can spread over 40cm a year. This combined with the high density (>100 stems/m2) makes Phragmites stand out in the landscape. Leaves are alternate, 20-50cm long by 1-5cm wide. The rigid leaves taper to a spiny point and have a ligule up to 1.5cm long. The next most striking feature of Phragmites is the flower which is very large (10-15cm) and showy, feathery appearance. It was actually the large height and the distinct feathery flower that raised our suspicions in the first place for this infestation.

The silver lining in this discovery is that it occurred early and the infestation can be limited going forward. This case serves as a great example of the old approach of Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR). It’s a fairly small site of less than 100m2 so it is still manageable at this time. Had this site been allowed to spread over the next couple years we could be dealing with a much larger and more costly cleanup effort. The County will work with the Government of Alberta on the eradication efforts since this plant is not legislated under the Weed Control Act but rather the Fisheries Act.

This site also serves as a prime example of how easy it can be for invasive species to enter and establish in different areas. Being surround by industrial yards it’s quite likely this plant established itself from some piece of industrial equipment. Either from washing off a neighboring vehicle or even from the equipment constructing the drainage ditch in which it was found. With the interconnectivity of industry today it’s very possibly for contaminated equipment to be bought from Manitoba or Ontario, for example, and then be trucked out to the yard in Alberta where rains wash soil and seeds off into the yard for the plants to start growing. The burden lies with the individual to stay up-to-date on various invasive species and remain vigilant for things that seem out of the ordinary.

If you come across this or another suspicious plant please contact Red Deer County Agricultural Services at 403.342.8654 or agriculture@rdcounty.ca.

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