NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 17, 2014

Group pushes for attention to phragmites threat

NEWBURY — The phragmite is not your friend. In fact, it is a serious menace to the Great Marsh of Essex County, and local environmental officials are working to prevent further infestation.

The Great Marsh Revitalization Task Force, meeting this week, announced an acceleration of an effort to recognize the danger of phragmites and to make the public aware of the serious problem.

Among the actions that the group is taking is to apply for federal funds from the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Program. The money, if received, will be used to attempt to curtail the advance of the weed. The search for financial support will be in conjunction with a funding request by the Merrimack River Beach Alliance and the National Wildlife Federation.

Also, the task force announced plans to inform local officials and residents that the health of the marsh in Essex County is threatened by the fast-growing coastal weed.

Phragmites are hardy coastal plants that can grow to 15 to 20 feet in height. Once rooted, they provide a dense wall of foliage that botanists say is threatening native forms of plant life. Scientists fear that fish and fowl that feed on traditional foliage could also be threatened if those species are choked out.

From Maine to New Jersey, phragmites are causing serious problems for many other North American hydrophyte wetland plants, authorities say.

Acid released by phragmites is degraded by ultraviolet light to produce a noxious compound, damaging susceptible plants and seedlings with two harmful toxins, according to studies.

Phragmites are so difficult to control that one of the most effective methods of eradicating the plant is to burn it over two or three seasons. The roots grow so deep and strong that one burn is not enough, experts say.

Local authorities have cut and sprayed phragmites, but burning was not mentioned at Wednesday’s meeting.

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