With its lush sprangled top, this grass is a bit of a pretty thing when at full maturity. It is the Giant Reed, Phragmites australis, and if you live near or visit Lake Erie, it'll certainly ring a bell. Mature culms can tower to a dozen feet or more, and under optimal conditions it grows in such dense profusion that a muskrat would have a hard time threading through the stalks.
Nearly all of the Phragmites that we've got in Ohio - and many other areas in the eastern U.S. - is of Eurasian extraction. There is a native variant - Phragmites australis ssp. americanus - but it is now quite rare in our neck of the woods. We used to have more of the native, but most of it has been vegetatively steamrolled by the invader.
Like a chlorophyll-filled cockroach, Phragmites scrambles around with astonishing speed, threading its way into all available nooks and crannies. Most of its conquests of new turf is accomplished by runners, or superficial rhizomes, shown above. These roots can grow up to several dozen feet a year, which is an effective way to thrust one's gramineus self into new and unwanted terrain, quickly.
Because of their successes in beating back the Phragmites, all manner of native flora has flourished along the Wake Robin Trail, and it's no coincidence that this has become the hotspot in northeast Ohio for finding two highly coveted feathered skulkers, the Nelson's Sparrow and Le Conte's Sparrow.
Would it be that we could only expel all of the Phragmites over the nearly 700 acres of marsh, but that's a tall order, and the foot soldiers are few. Financing to arm the troops in the ground battle is tight, too, and that's why it is so important to support organizations such as the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The CMNH is doing some of the most important conservation work in northeast Ohio, and if you've visited Mentor Marsh and nabbed your lifer Nelson's or Le Conte's sparrow, you've benefited from their efforts. Ditto that if you've been to any of the other 34 sites totalling some 5,000 acres that the Museum has protected.
Ohio is truly fortunate to have the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and its Natural areas Program, and should you find a way to help support them, please do!