Invasive plant phragmites a strain on wildlife, local resources

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As temperatures begin to climb, officials are reminding Ontarians to be aware of the increase in non-native wildlife and the impact these invasive species can have.

One plant southern Ontarians should keep an eye out for is phragmites — a tall weed with rough stalks and a tassel-like top, Kellie Sherman of the Ontario Invasive Plant Council told CBC News.

An outbreak of phragmites will basically create a dead zone in its surroundings, Sherman said. Birds, insects and even turtles can't survive in areas infested by phragmites.

Because phragmites can grow up to five metres tall it can block views from the cottage, make water areas difficult to access and block visibility on roadways and at intersections.

"Municipalities also have to use more funds for herbicides to spray along roads especially in southwestern Ontario, she said. "They're also bad for clogging drainage ditches and municipal drains."

The plant's thick stalks can also be a fire hazard in dry weather.

The worst areas for phragmites in southern Ontario, Sherman said, are at Long Point in Norfolk County and Rondeau Bay on Lake Erie.

However, for the last two years, the wetlands at Snyder's Flats has been closed for several days while areas with phragmites are treated.

If it's not treated or removed properly, phragmites spreads easily, Sherman said. It also spreads when relocated through construction.

Phragmites are generally worst in late August, Sherman said, when plants are in full bloom and have reached maximum height.

This year's wet spring won't likely have a huge impact on the plant's spread, she said, because the long root system can stretch to find water.

"Phragmites is so adaptable it likes wet areas, but can survive in extremely dry areas as well," she said.

People shouldn't try and remove phragmites on their own because if they're not carefully removed and treated with the appropriate herbicide the plant could spread further.

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