Fighting phragmites? Here’s a success story to inspire you

invasive phragmites growing by the lake Photo by Maxal Tamor / Shutterstock

It was six or seven years ago when cottagers Jim and Joan Rose noticed some new plants growing beside their dock on White Lake, Ont. “We loved to watch them send out runners along the sand,” says Jim, the president of the lake’s cottager association. Then, one day in 2017, Jim’s cousin, Mary Hewitt—an ecologist—was visiting the lake. She broke the bad news: these tough, reedy plants were likely invasive phragmites. “In very short order, we decided that we had a problem,” says Jim.

Jim secured funding from the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations to buy cutting tools. Then he sent out the cry for help. “The cottagers here are very much committed to maintaining the purity of the lake,” says Jim. “We had 25 people on our deck in four days.” 

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The volunteers worked in small groups, regularly cutting the plants and transporting them to firepits on shore for burning. The crews kept logs: in 2017, they spent a total of 328 hours on the project. “We had such success that, the following summer, we only had to spend 94 hours cutting and burning phragmites,” says Jim. Two years later, “we had pretty much eliminated the invasive from our lake.”

It sure wasn’t easy. “There we were, waist-deep in water, cutting down phragmites towering above us by seven feet. Then we’d spend hours kayaking against the wind, towing rowboats filled with stalks. There were times when we were in despair,” says Jim. “But then, miraculously…we had done it.”

This story was originally published as part of the collection “Better Together” in the June/July 2020 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

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Find more resources from the Ontario Invasive Plant Council

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