TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – State wildlife officials are raising awareness regarding a shoreline invasive species responsible for issues ranging from boating access to sharp drops in plant diversity at Kansas lakes and reservoirs.

Phragmites fall under the umbrella of aquatic nuisance species, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP). Their presence is a headache both for conservationists and those who enjoy interacting with the water in Kansas.

KSNT spoke with KDWP Fisheries Division Director Bryan Sowards to learn more about phragmites, what issues they pose to the environment and what can be done to slow their spread.

What are phragmites?

Phragmites, otherwise known as common reed, appear as reed grasses that can be found in and around wetlands, lakes and other waterways, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). While some phragmites are native to the U.S., the invasive strains are believed to have come from Europe and were first brought to North America in the 1800s.

A photo of invasive phragmites along the shoreline. (Photo Courtesy/Bryan Sowards)

Sowards said phragmites grow and spread quickly. Places like Wilson Reservoir, Cheyenne Bottoms wetlands and Cedar Bluff Reservoir are currently home to large amounts of phragmites.

“They grow in wet spots and overtake them,” Sowards said. “They can grow over ten feet tall and choke out an area. It’s really tall stuff.”

Sowards said it is difficult to identify phragmites sometimes as they can be mistaken for Johnson grass or cattails during certain times of the year. To spot invasive phragmites, look for stems that are light tan in color and hollow; leaves that are blue-green in color, flat and wide; flower heads that are dense, fluffy and gray or purple in color. Invasive phragmites can reach up to 15 feet in height.

Why are phragmites a problem?

Sowards said phragmites can cause a lot of problems for native species, especially with plant diversity. Phragmites can crowd out native plants, sapping up resources and becoming the dominant plant growing in some wet areas.

“What they’ll do is they’ll take what other species feed on,” Sowards said. “It makes for a homogeneous environment where it’s weed grass and nothing else.”

Sowards said phragmites can make it difficult for boaters and anglers to access the water in lakes and reservoirs where the invasive plant is especially prominent. In places like Cheyenne Bottoms, it’s a never-ending effort simply to control the presence of phragmites as the plants are difficult to eradicate completely.

Phragmites can also result in the drying up of wetlands, impeding the movement of water and increase the potential of fire risks, according to the KDWP. The invasive plants can degrade wildlife habitats with dense growth, reducing critical resources for birds and other wildlife.

What’s being done to stop them?

The KDWP has several plans in place to control the spread of phragmites in Kansas. Larger populations of phragmites are controlled with herbicidal treatments along with controlled burns, mechanical pulling or cutting and flooding. However, treatments usually need to be repeated annually to control dense stands of phragmites.

Sowards said it is important for boaters and others who interact with places where phragmites are established to check their gear before moving to a new area. While phragmites spread through seed dispersal, they can also be spread by humans if their equipment, gear or boats are contaminated.

“Do your part to control the spread,” Sowards said.

The KDWP emphasizes inspecting equipment, gear and boats for loose vegetation before moving to a new area. It is also highly recommended to never take fish or plants from one lake and put them into another.

You can learn more about phragmites on the KDWP’s website by clicking here.