Fight the Phrag!
Introducing: Lynn Short
Lynn Short is a Professor and Researcher at Humber College in Horticulture. She is also the owner of a cottage in Tiny Township on Georgian Bay, where she developed an innovative technique to remove invasive Phragmites (common reed) without herbicides. She trains other professionals, community groups and land managers in implementing effective Phragmites control using sharpened spades. EcoSpark is partnering with Lynn, Humber Arboretum, and the City of Toronto to conduct citizen science Phragmites research with volunteers in Toronto parks and ravines.
What is the big deal with invasive Phragmites? Why do you think it's such an important issue for our greenspaces?
This plant is taking over greenspaces all around the Great Lakes. It is a problem for several reasons. In natural ecosystems, it outcompetes all other native plants species and creates a dense monoculture of Phragmites which is inhospitable to native animal species, both on land and in the water. It can also threaten rare plant species and culturally significant plants. In urban communities, it becomes established in low, wet areas and the dried dormant stalks present a fire hazard in winter and early spring which can threaten nearby structures. Along roadsides, it grows in ditches and blocks drainage from the road causing flooding. Tall stands near roads and intersections can also block sight lines, presenting a safety hazard. Along recreational shorelines, dense stands can block access to waterways interfering with swimming and boating.
Tell us how you got involved in Phragmites research, and how you developed the spading removal technique.
When this plant first appeared on my beachfront property, I did not know what it was. I could see that it was taking over my waterfront and I did not want it to be there. I spent the next few years experimenting with control strategies. I decided to use a strategy that would prevent the plant from being able to photosynthesize which meant removing it below the soil surface repeatedly and persistently. This resulted in weakening the plant and eventually making it disappear from my beach while restoring the other native species. Using this Spading Removal Technique, nearby residents have been able to control Phragmites on their properties. I decided to do formal research at Humber College to demonstrate quantitatively the effectiveness of the Spading Technique.
Do you think citizen science volunteers can make a difference when it comes to Phragmites monitoring and control?
The Spading Technique is a labour intensive activity. It can be employed by teenagers and adults. It is easy to learn and uses basic garden tools. Phragmites is spreading all around southern Ontario with very few practical ways of controlling the plant. Citizen science volunteers can be very effective in controlling Phragmites outbreaks in parks and natural areas. The more volunteers, the less daunting the task of removal. Monitoring the density of the growth from year to year will allow the volunteers to document progress.
What do you think are the most important steps going forward for individuals and society?
If Phragmites is going to be beaten, it will take a concentrated effort on the part of all citizens. I think it is most important to build awareness of the problems and concerns associated with this plant by educating the public. The more people that know about this plant, the more likely people will be motivated to do something. There is also a need to communicate effective control strategies for implementation. This can be accomplished by presenting research results and monitoring data to inspire further efforts.