Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Phragmites (Common Reed),
a public educational program presented by the Sandwich Conservation Trust
By John Nye Cullity, SCT president

Invasive plants are increasingly in the news, and it’s the fast growth, difficulty of removal, and filling in of the landscape that gets our attention. Trees become smothered with tough, snake-like Asian Bittersweet, wet spots are jammed full of bamboo-like Giant Knotweed. Impenetrable interlocking domes of Multiflora Rose defy removal, and even seem to reach out and grab us. These unwelcome visitors, once introduced from Europe or Asia, displace native plants important to local wildlife and lead to a reduction in healthy biodiversity.

Brady's Island in 1985 showing clearly the area that is now obscured by the growth of phragmites.
Here in Sandwich I would venture that the most visible invasive, and possibly the most damaging is Common Reed, or Phragmites australis. For the last several decades this giant member of the grass family has been filling up our once beautiful inner salt marshes, and ringing the large open marshes. This process is damaging because salt marshes are incredibly rich and productive nursery grounds for the lower levels of the marine food chain that leads to the ocean fish we rely on as food.

Sandwich is among the Cape Cod towns that have many areas of marsh adjacent to roads – highly visible, and much appreciated by tourists and locals alike. It’s not news to Sandwich residents that we are rapidly losing our marsh views to thick, tall stands of phragmites, and this certainly doesn’t help our tourism economy.

The best example of this type of loss is the inner marsh of Sandwich Village surrounding Brady’s Island, a town conservation area. Anyone who has lived here more than twenty years remembers how unique and beautiful this landscape was – from a car driving along Route 6A and Tupper Road in particular, we could glance across the marsh and clearly see the other side of the village. There used to be several spots along Route 6A where we were refreshed with pleasing marsh views, but these are mostly gone, filled in with phragmites.

Many residents are concerned about this problem, and wonder what can be done. In response to this need the Sandwich Conservation Trust held a free public informational meeting on phragmites on Sunday, March 11, 2012.  The speakers were two scientists with years of hands-on salt marsh experience. Tara Nye has been staff biologist for the Association for the Preservation of Cape Cod for ten years. She directs a salt marsh monitoring program that studies the health of tidally restricted marshes on Cape Cod. Dick Payne is a retired physical oceanographer who worked for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. He has been studying phragmites on his own for ten years, and has experimented with several methods of control.

After the program there was a walk over to the Game Farm preserve, where, among many interesting natural features, we saw plenty of phragmites.