Saugeen Bruce Peninsula’s Year-Round Vacationer: Phragmites Continues to Spread Rapidly


Submitted by NCC

It’s something everyone’s talking about, and you’ve likely seen it by now — maybe without even realizing it. Our quiet backcountry landscape has become a battleground. An invader called common reed, or Phragmites pronounced “frag-might-ees”, has been growing in Ontario since the mid-1900s. Despite its seemingly long-standing history in eastern Canada, it is now spreading rapidly across the Canada due to increased human activities, such as transportation, habitat degradation and development.

A wetland species native to Eurasia, phragmites has the unique ability to flourish in dry or wet soils and open water. It can endure drought and floods, and it possesses some tolerance of salt.

The immense reed spreads by root growth, or seed or plant material dispersal. Phragmites encounters little threat of predation or competition from native plants. By releasing a toxin into the soil while growing, it thwarts the growth and health of neighbouring native plant life.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is working with local organizations such as the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association (BPBA) and Bruce Peninsula National Park (BPNP) to help identify and manage phragmites populations throughout the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula. NCC manages populations found in wetlands on our conserved properties on the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula, with support from Wildlife Habitat Canada.

Recently, NCC’s Esme Batten, coordinator of conservation biology for the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula, and her team of interns have been managing cluster populations of phragmites — with exciting results. Through consistent management, the patches are dwindling. Within a few years, NCC’s wetland sites could be phragmites-free. NCC will conduct ongoing surveys for new populations of this problematic invasive to ensure its complete eradication on our properties.

NCC controls phragmites on the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula in two ways: targeted application of an herbicide with the required permits and applied by licensed individuals, and the mechanical removal of plant material if it is found within 10 metres of water.

Late August to mid-September is the most effective time of year to control phragmites, as the plant spends a considerable amount of energy growing and increasing its range, as well as producing its familiar feathery purple-red seed heads.

There are many opinions on the consequences of allowing phragmites to spread unchecked, but scientific studies have shown significantly reduced species diversity in wetlands and waterbodies when left unmanaged.

Unlike native wetland plants like cattails, phragmites out-competes resident plant life that other native species rely on by shading them out, or by lowering water levels, due to their sheer size. Phragmites forms physical barriers that can harm animals, such as turtles, that become trapped in the impenetrable maze of rigid stems, eventually dying of exhaustion. Our native ecosystems haven’t had time to catch up and reach a balance with phragmites due, partly, to its human-assisted dispersal — not to mention the lack of attention given to the issue until recently.

Here are some tips to on how you can help reduce the spread of phragmites:

· If you’ve been hitting the trails by foot, tire or hoof, make sure that seeds or plant materials are not coming with you. Clean your boots, tires and hooves thoroughly. It’s our responsibility to help stop it from spreading!

· By becoming familiar with your own property and local natural areas, you can help identify where this problematic species is found so it can be effectively controlled.

· Learn how to control phragmites on your private property, either at home or at the cottage, by reading this booklet:

· Alert Nature Conservancy of Canada or Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association staff if you find any phragmites on private or public lands (,

For more information on phragmites, please visit