A Laker’s Life: Phragmities
By Jim Lanning
It started as a home décor item for homes with large entrance foyers. The tassels can grow 16 to 20 feet without bending or breaking. They looked majestic and elegant in a ceramic vase. The Europeans could not believe that we were actually buying their most problematic weed. It would be the equivalent of finding a market for our Dandelions. After a while people would get bored with the tassels and toss them in the back yard. Those tassels were actually the seed pods of one of the worst of invasive species we would come to know. PHRAGMITES!
The natural cousin to Phragmites in our region is the Cattail. They both do well in moist wet areas and swamps. Unfortunately for us the Phragmites are almost unstoppable. Once they have established themselves they will dominate the area and choke out all other vegetation.
If you have been on I-690 near Erie Boulevard lately you have seen the devastation. Phragmites has taken over the entire area. East Syracuse has it everywhere and people are either oblivious or have accepted the change in our local environment. Once established the root system is integrated and complex. Large root shoots grow deep into the soil and cannot be pulled by hand. The connectivity of the roots allow the plant to expand into dry areas. The stalks are sharp and dense to the point that deer and other wildlife will avoid the area.
While my description of the situation may seem bleak, there is hope! When caught in its’ early stages of infestation it can be treated and eradicated quickly. Skaneateles has seen less of this invasive species than many other local communities. The spread of Phragmites can be slowed by cutting and mowing the area of infestation. This will not stop or kill the plant but it does slow the progression
Unfortunately a small patch of Phragmites has been allowed to flourish on Kane Avenue. It is located on the east side of the road just north of Prentiss Drive. The State and the Village have left the patch untreated and uncut for several years now. The seed tassels have been allowed to mature and spread. It was with tremendous sadness that I observed the inevitable this spring.
The patch of Phragmites on Kane Avenue has now spread across the road to the west into the development known as Whitegate. A large retention basin was required for environmental reasons. This retention basin is a great idea. It helps reduce the silt and nutrient loading of the lake. It helps to filter the water from the area before it gets to the lake. Sadly, the Phragmites is now growing in that retention basin. About a dozen or so stalks have taken root in the basin.
This new infestation can be treated quickly and easily at this point with an herbicide. Left untreated we will all watch that landscape be devastated. The Phragmites will explode in growth and choke out all of the local plant life in that basin. Once established it will spread throughout the area like wildfire.
The homeowners association should be concerned and proactive. The State and Village should address the patch along Kane Avenue. The Department of Conservation is doing all that they can but the infestation in our region is extensive. Residents should become aware of this scourge and learn to identify it. If it shows up in your ditches or wet areas it can be treated. We may not be able to defeat it but we can hold it back and control its’ spread.
Jim Lanning is a longtime Skaneateles resident and former village trustee and town supervisor.