Common reed, or Phragmites, is a tall, perennial grass that can grow to over 15 feet in height. In North America, both native phragmites and introduced subspecies are found.

Phrags discussion continues, Saturday, Oct. 23rd with Ryan Locke & others at 4:30pm.  Suz McLaughlin’s house.

More Information:



The following is a copy of a letter sent out August 3, 2011 to Betsie Bay property owners:

Dear Betsie Bay Property Owner,

As members of the local non-profit organization, Friends of Betsie Bay, and concerned residents, we’re writing to alert you to a potentially catastrophic change going on in the bay and inlet. Since you’re a longtime resident, shoreline property owner, and lover of this area, we’re sure you’ve noticed it too. We want to inform you about Phragmites australis (an exotic reed grass), the harm it can cause, the process of eradication, and the efforts that are already under way. With your financial help and permission, we can solve this problem before it’s too late, beginning as soon as this fall.

The invasive species Phragmites australis was positively identified in the bay last summer by Liz Padalino, an invasive species educator with the Cooperative Weed Management Area. You’ll know invasive phragmites by the fluffy purple (in summer) to yellowish-white (in winter) seedhead on top. Information about phragmites has been published in the Benzie County Record-Patriot, and the Friends of Betsie Bay undertook a river float last summer to identify and map the stands of phragmites along the Betsie River and in the bay. If you have walked or biked along the bike trail or driven over the causeway between Frankfort and Elberta, you are aware of the large areas where phragmites is thriving, growing over 15 feet tall in places, and you’ve probably noticed that it has spread significantly just over the past year. The phragmites in this area is extensive and dense; the plant’s root mats spread up to 10 feet in a season and can be up to four feet thick, sending out rhizomes (runners) up to 60 feet long, choking out other plant species such as cattails and preventing the free flow of water. According to wetland biologists and invasive species experts, phragmites does not serve as a food source for wildlife, and it’s too dense to serve as effective cover or nesting grounds. In fact, it is deeply destructive to our recreational fishing as well as our local bird and other wildlife habitat.

If it goes unchecked, it will cause the marsh and river mouth to narrow and eventually disappear, and the loss of biodiversity will cause the wetland ecosystem we know to collapse. Cautionary tales of untreated phragmites infestations abound in Michigan, especially downstate, in areas around Holland and Saginaw Bay, where it is now so extensive, there’s no real hope of treatment. Many of you can remember when it was easy to run a canoe or even a motor boat in the area behind Elberta’s Campground, for example; the change you see is not due simply to lower lake levels, but to the spread of phragmites.

The Friends of Betsie Bay have joined forces with the Benzie Conservation District, the Benzie Watershed Coalition (a newly formed countywide group of many Lake Associations, local non-profits, etc.) and other groups such as the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy to determine how best to deal with this invader. At the county commissioners meeting on July 5, a subcommittee headed by Roland Halliday. Commissioner from District II (Crystal Lake, Platte & Lake townships), was formed to explore the issue and determine how best to coordinate the countywide response.

According to the DEQ and many other well researched efforts, herbicides are the most effective method for getting rid of phragmites, and they are recommended as the first step in what is usually a long-term process requiring up to 10 years of treatment efforts and monitoring. . It’s important to note that the herbicides are non-selective and will affect any plant species through contact with the leaves and stems. That’s why it’s important to have a licensed, experienced practitioner take on the task. According to the DEQ: “When applied using the correct method and used according to chemical manufacturer’s instructions, impacts to native plants, as well as mammals, birds, and fish can be minimized.”

Because our stands of phragmites are fairly large, dense, and located in a wetland area, we would need to use commercial equipment, a licensed contractor to do the work, permission from the property owners and a permit from the DNR, which will cost from $200–$400, depending on the size of the treatment area. In addition to the permit fee, according to one contractor’s estimate, the treatment would cost $7,000 to $10,000 for the first year of treatment, with the expected treatment cost going down each year after that.

Because of the urgency of the problem, and the necessity of treating it as soon as possible, it makes sense to coordinate our efforts under one permit and treat as wide an area as possible as soon as possible, beginning this fall. According to the DEQ, it’s best to apply the herbicide during the end of the plants’ growing season in starting in early fall, before the plant goes dormant for the winter. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for phragmites, but the sooner we start, the quicker it will be. Vickie Smith, an eradication specialist with the company Wildlife and Wetland Solutions, estimated our problem could be effectively controlled in three years—in other words, relatively quickly, if we start this season. We need your help!

The good news is that invasive phragmites has been fought successfully in Beaver Island, Leelanau & Emmet County, and Onekama, through community efforts, local fundraising, and grant money. We spoke with Mary Reed, one of the leaders of the Onekama effort, and she had this to say:

In 2009, we had an estimated 150 acres of phragmites and we treated 84 acres. We had less than 10 acres to treat in 2010. And, our natives are coming back in areas where we treated the phragmites. The marsh marigolds are blooming where there used to be only phragmites!

Here’s what you can do:
• Educate yourself and your neighbors about phragmites
• Identify the plant if it exists on your property
• Give us your permission to treat phragmites infestations on your property
• Make donations to Friends of Betsie Bay to support our eradication program; Friends of Betsie Bay has been seeking grants from various agencies, including the Nature Conservancy, and will apply for a grant from the Frankfort Chamber Foundation. A significant portion of the money will need to come through donations from area landowners like you and other concerned citizens.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We hope you’ll consider joining this effort to ensure the future of our bay’s wildlife, property and recreational values for future generations!

Friends of Betsie Bay Phragmites Committee Members
Emily Votruba, Karen Roberts, Bob Dittrich and Suz McLaughlin

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