During the last week of camp at the BDC this summer, a small but mighty group of campers and their counselors piled into van for an adventure to the Timberlake barns and gardens area. Our mission: to seek out the “bad plant” and remove it so the good plants could have a healthy home. This unwelcome plant is called the common reed, or Phragmites australis, which is a Vermont Class B Noxious Weed and a widespread invasive plant.
F&W has been focusing on the removal of this invasive grass in a couple small patches around the Woodward camps because it poses an ecological threat if allowed to spread. The common reed is hard to miss, especially in the months of August and September when the large, tassel-like purple, brown flower comes out and can reach heights of as tall as 15 feet! Not only can an invasive species reduce and replace native plant habitat, the common reed also releases allelopathic compounds from its roots, called rhizomes, which can have negative impacts on nearby native plant roots. It’s not so easy to get rid of, however, due to this horizontal rhizome root system, and repeated cutting is necessary to prevent its spread.
Our small group of campers put a large dent in the Timberlake patch of common reed this summer in just 30 minutes of cutting. While we were working, the campers learned the story of the common reed, how it grows, where it came from, how to remove it, and why invasive plants are harmful to native plants and ecosystem diversity.
It was wonderful to observe the campers’ excitement as they used the cutting tools and found the stems (which were taller than them!). We pointed out the native plants we were cutting around, pulled burs off the neighboring burdock to make a Velcro-like crowns, and organized the “snail police” to pull the little snails and slugs of the stems before they went into the bag. As we drove back to the Barn, the campers were proud to have stuffed four very large bags full of common reed! Such a simple afternoon activity – a great experiential opportunity to learn about work being love made visible for the land we steward.