The Forest in March: Stop the Invasion- Pull Phragmites and replace with Cattails! Volunteer Opportunity Next Month
In the past year, Forest Manager John Brady, with the help of Consortium students, has been working to combat Phragmites australis, an invasive plant also known as Common Reed, which is present in Black Rock Forest’s Sphagnum Marsh, a wetland habitat teeming with life. Phragmites first appeared in the marsh in very low numbers in the 1990s and has slowly been expanding. This year, staff decided it was time to take action.
Phragmites australis is one of the most widespread flowering plants in the world. It has become a common sight along roadways and in wetlands in New York since its introduction at the turn of the last century. This invasion went mostly unnoticed as there are several native varieties of this plant, and there are only subtle differences in appearance between North American common reed and European common reed. However, once established, Phragmites can cause substantial ecological harm by decreasing biodiversity, altering nutrient cycling and eliminating habitat for animals such as crayfish and other macro-invertebrates as well as muskrat, nutria and many wading wetland birds.
As with any invasive removal, a replanting of native vegetation should follow. Enter the cattail (Typha latifolia).
The cattail is one of the most recognizable wetland plants around the world. It is also known as the bulrush (British English), reedmace (archaic British English) or cumbungi (Australian English). Its distinctive flower head, resembling a hot dog on a stick, makes it easily identifiable. There are many species of cattail within the genus Typha, and here in New York state we have two species: broad-leaf (Typha latifolia) and narrow-leaf (Typha angustifolia) with broad-leaf cattail being by far more common.
Cattails provide food, shelter and habitat for many wetland animals. They are used as nesting sites by red-wing blackbirds, ducks and geese. The tuberous rhizomes and young leaves are eaten by  mammals, including the muskrat, nutria and beavers, while the seeds are eaten by ducks and finches.
People have also used the cattail as a source of food throughout its range. The tubers are starchy and can be eaten much like a potato or ground into a flour. The young shoots can be boiled and eaten much like asparagus and the flower spikes can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob! The cattail is a very beneficial plant that can be used by people and wildlife alike.
Come out and volunteer on April 8th at 9:00 AM (RSVP to Brienne Cliadakis, to help us eliminate Phragmites and re-establish cattails in Sphagnum Marsh and other spots in the Forest!
Photo: Phragmites, Sara Pace.