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Invasive plant thriving in southeast New Brunswick

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Surrounded by tall, dense, grass-like plants, experts and conservation groups gathered in Riverview, New Brunswick, on Thursday to try and raise awareness to an invasive plant species.

Phragmites, also known as European Common Reed, can be found in all three Maritime provinces, but experts say it’s particularly abundant in the Moncton-Riverview area.

“We are finding that Southeast New Brunswick generally, but the Moncton area, more specifically, really seems to be the hot spot where it’s the most abundant, and particularly these marshes along the Petitcodiac between Moncton and Riverview is kind of ground zero,” said Paula Noel, the New Brunswick program director for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Members from the Nature Conservancy of Canada, New Brunswick Invasive Species Council, Fundy Biosphere Region, and the Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance worked together on Thursday to try out two different techniques to kill and control the plant.

One group worked on cutting down the plant and putting a tarp over it, while another worked on physically digging it out of the ground.

“There’s just so much of it here and as people have been saying, we’re just scratching the tip of the iceberg here in trying to control these patches,” said Noel.

She says the biggest concern is the impact it can have on wetlands, something that’s already been seen in southern Ontario and Quebec.

“It grows so thickly, it basically forms a monoculture and as you can see it’s a very tall, very thickly growing plant. Basically once it starts to grow and spread it cuts out all light to the ground and so no other plants can grow underneath it. It actually impacts the soil around it so that it inhibits other plants from growing and allows it to keep spreading outward,” she said.

Adding, “not only are you losing all the native plants, the diversity of plants you’d expect to find in our wetlands, but it also completely changes the habitat for wildlife.”

While it’s currently a growing problem, commonly seen along trails, roads, and wetlands, Noel says she started noticing it about a decade ago.

As for why it’s spreading so rapidly right now, she says it could be two things.

“One is that with a lot of invasive species there’s sometimes just a critical tipping point where it’s around in very small amounts, but the population gets to a certain point where it just starts to spread exponentially. But the other reason could be as the climate is changing, our region is just becoming more suitable for this plant,” she explained.

The hope it to make more people aware of phragmites.

She says that if people suspect it, they can take a picture and upload it to the iNaturalist app. This will allow experts to not only identify it, but also track how wide spread it is.

While Noel says the biggest concern is wetland impact, phragmites can also cause issues on roadways by hampering sight lines and blocking municipal drains.

For the latest New Brunswick news, visit our dedicated provincial page. 

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