Thursday, October 19, 2006


Have you ever been driving down the road and noticed a huge patch of tropical cane-like grass invading in a ditch along Ohio's highways? A giant green grass, surpassing 12 feet tall? Maybe you have seen it along Lake Erie, or perhaps Mentor Marsh in Lake County?

Until about 2 years ago, we thought this stuff was horrible. And really, the plants that I have described are still highly invasive. And those plants are horrible. But at national meetings, botanists would get together and talk about Phragmites australis, the common reed. Along the east, botanists and wildlife managers swore at this stuff. Phragmites is running us out of our wetlands! It is taking over! Plant lovers and other scientists in the upper midwest were like, um really? Phragmites is really a well behaved plant in our managed areas. It really isn't invasive at all.

And it turns out that some people did some great botanical work. Specifically, Saltonstall, Peterson, and Soreng published an article in the international botanical journal Sida, naming the native species Phragmites australis subspecies americanus. Since this article has been published, numerous botanists have developed ways to tell the native from the invasive species.

Anyways, all this background is in the back of my mind when I go out into the field. So the other day, when I was at Springville Marsh in Seneca County, some phragmites caught my eye. I had seen the plant two years before. Tall, growing with cattails and shrubs. I asked Greg and Rick if the stuff was native, but they just didn't know the plant back then. Today, I was sure what I saw was the native stuff. The large dense plume that I normally seen in the agressive phragmites was replaced with a more open panicle. Could this be it? I collected a few large stems, Walt helped me place them in a temporary vasculum (a trash bag!) and I headed back to Columbus. Sure enough, upon returning to the office, my specimens matched 4 of the characteristics of the native plant. The stems were red and smoothly polished instead of rough, the plants had black fungal dots on the stems, the glumes, part of the highly modified grass flower also matched. I showed the specimen to Rick Garder, state botanist, and he concurred. Maybe I'll write a newsletter article for Natural Ohio, my employer's newsletter, describing the find? We'll see. It felt great finding this plant that most people had passed over for a weed.


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