SARANAC LAKE — For years, a section of roadway on state Route 86 between Saranac Lake and Ray Brook has been home to an invasive plant — common reed grass — that takes over wetlands.
But recently members of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, with the help of the Student Conservation Association, have taken steps to eradicate the plant.
They spent three days in July hand picking the plant and hope to get permission soon from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to use a Glyphosate-based herbicide named Accord to help their cause.
Common reed grass’s scientific name is phragmites australis. This plant is a tall perennial grass that can grow up to 15 feet in height.
The main problem with this grass, which is originally from Europe, is that it grows in dense stands, moving out native plants.
“It forms these really dense monocultures, very, very thick stands that few plants can compete with,” said Hilary Smith, director of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program. “It changes or degrades the wetland habitat for wildlife and bird species.”
Common Reed Grass grows horizontally underground by sending out rhizome runners that grow roots and send out shoots.
If broken off, the rhizome pieces can form stands on their own. For instance, if a highway department were to scoop up a part of a rhizome and transport it with some dirt in truck a few miles away, the rhizome could start a new stand where it was relocated. It also spreads via seeds.
One reason that the Saranac Lake stands of common reed grass have been difficult to fight is that most of them were located on the Forest Preserve, meaning that until recently herbicides weren’t allowed to treat it there.
Efforts to handpick the common reed grass were undertaken in 2003 and 2004, but then abandoned after it was determined that this method wouldn’t work. Since that time, the stands have grown and multiplied.
Originally, Smith said there were two stands but now there are nine in that location.
Overall, there are two main areas where common reed grass is known to be on Forest Preserve, with the other being in Wilmington.
Smith believes there is hope in eliminating much of it before it spreads, especially where they have started working in Saranac Lake. But she doesn’t expect it to disappear overnight and will require a combination of hand picking and herbicide application to eliminate it.
“It’s going to take a few years but we’re hopeful that the native plant seed banks that’s in that wetland will be able to recruit into the site and repopulate it over time,” Smith said. “That’s the ultimate goal. That we would be able to eradicate phragmites from that site and have native species regenerate to restore the site.”
Photo by Brendan Quirion
Staff of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program and Student Conservation Association hand pick a large infestation of common reed grass
(phragmites australis) in a wetland on Route 86 between Saranac Lake and Ray Brook.