Saturday, February 25th, 2012 | Author:

We had some good news in class this week: The Everglades are recovering! However, the nearby Chesapeake Bay is still struggling to recover from the loss of its local wetlands.  These wetlands aren’t as big or diverse as the Everglades, but they’re still an important resource to Maryland and Virginia alike.  Like the Everglades, they provide homes to many birds and fish, as well as the famous Chesapeake Bay crab and oyster.  They give local fishermen jobs and nature lovers a variety of animals and plants to enjoy.  They filter out chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides used in suburban lawns and rural farmland.  However, all these benefits are at risk due to one pesky invasive species that does a lot of damage: phragmites, also known as common reed.

Common reed Phragmites have  been in the Chesapeake Bay area since the 18th century, when European ships accidentally dropped phragmite seeds along the Atlantic coast.  However, phragmites really got a population boost in the 20th century.  When parts of the Chesapeake Bay marshlands were drained for construction purposes, runoff and chemicals from the newly built roads, houses and businesses killed off much of the native wildlife.  That gave phragmites space to spread out.  Nutrients from fertilizer helped phragmites crowd out the native plants (and the same fertilizer helped algae to spread, which helped keep the competing native plant population down).  That meant that the native birds didn’t have any grasses to eat, and the native fish didn’t have a places to lay their eggs, so they left.  To sum up: one plant nearly wiped out an entire ecosystem.

There’s some good news, however.  Environmentalists now know about the risk that phragmites pose, and are taking steps to get rid of the plants.  Organizations like Weed Warriors are planting more native species in the area.  Environmentalists who want to manage phragmites usually apply herbicides as carefully as possible (so they don’t kill the native plants), or burn it after it flowers.  There’s no known way to get rid of it biologically, but there’s hope that phragmites will disappear for once and for all.

– Katie Diemer, <>

Amsel, Sheri. “Wetlands of the World.” The Chesapeake Bay. Exploring Nature Educational Resource. © 2005
       – 2012. February 25, 2012. <>
“PCA Alien Plant Working Group – Common Reed (Phragmites Australis)”, n.d.                                          /alien/fact/phau1.htm.
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  1. kdiemer54 says:

    Julie, I didn’t know cattails were invasive in the Everglades! I always thought they were native. That’s quite a surprise!

    Stephen and Kelly, I didn’t know phragmites were invasive, either, until I stumbled across these websites. I always thought they were native to the area. There’s so many of them, after all!

    No, Kirsten, I haven’t seen the cane toad documentary. I wish I had! I wonder just how weird it is.

  2. ehartma2 says:

    Recently, I have heard so many sad stories about the Chesapeake Bay. I like how your example shows how everything is connected. Could the destruction of the Chesapeake Bay eventually start creating changes to the environment of Fredericksburg? Or has it already? If one change in species led to drastic changes in the Bay, why couldn’t that one change lead to drastic changes outside of the water?

  3. klamb says:

    For some reason it always surprises me how much one species or one seemingly small event can offset the system of things in such a significant way. One thing I don’t understand is how people can learn information like this and still not care about the consequences of draining wetlands or even about how seriously careless construction planning can affect the ecosystems surrounding it and even ones further away. It is nice to be seeing good news though instead of hearing that everything is doomed. On an unrelated note, have you seen the Cane Toad documentary? Weird film.

  4. sweidman says:

    I have lived 5 minutes from the Chesapeake Bay my whole life and I never knew about this. I just always thought it was a grass that was all over the place and was natural to the Chesapeake Bay, but I guess not. But just as Kimberly said we can give it credit for holding in the sand and soil down but yet that doesn’t help when it is destroying the wetland surrounding us.

  5. khorvath says:

    I am so interested in this post because as I was scrolling down the blog, I saw the image of the phragmites and your title. As I started reading, I must admit I was a little surprised to read that phragmites are invasive species, they seem to be so common along the East Coast beaches such as North Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware. It never crossed my mind that they could be invasive species!

    Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading about the Chesapeake Bay, something that is so close to us. And although it may not be as large as the everglades, it is still wetland and an ecosystem that must be preserved and protected.

  6. ensignredshirt says:

    This seems to be my day for forgetting my initals on blog comments…. tjat last one was done by moi, Annika Lewis.

  7. ensignredshirt says:

    Huh. I didn’t realize that this was such a problem. I know invasive species can really effect an ecosystem, but I hadn’t heard of phragmites. I think it’s interesting that one animal or plant can have such an effect; it’s the one domino knocked down that causes the rest to fall.

  8. kimberlyhutcheson says:

    It’s funny to me how the reed seems like such a typical image of the beach landscape, when in fact it’s an invasive and harmful species. This was an interesting post, thanks for bringing this up! If there could be any benefit to having reeds, perhaps we could give it some credit for holding the soil in place and preventing erosion? I guess that doesn’t compare to the damage done by invading the ecosystem, but hopefully we can figure out a way soon to reintroduce the native plants that were forced out.

  9. skirschn says:

    The Chesapeake Bay has so many environmental problems that the best way to help the ecosystem is to take small steps. The actions the Weed Warriors and other environmentalist groups are taking to get rid of invasive species and reintroduce native species will hopefully put the Chesapeake restoration in the right direction.

  10. Dr. Szulczewski says:

    This is an excellent look at a combination of issues occuring right in our backyard- and this makes a difference to just as many people and species as the Everglades, if not even more!

  11. jrandal2 says:

    Exotic species have always been a tough topic to find a solution to. This reminded me a lot of the Cattails in the Everglades, and how they took over the expanses of sawgrass as the soil began to have higher levels of phosphorus. This also had an effect on the ecosystem as wading birds that had once nested in it no longer had a valuable resource to their survival. I feel like the story of exotic species can be found in a lot of different locations, each with tragic outcomes, such as the Phragmites in the Chesapeake or the Cane Toad in Australia.

  12. kmoxey says:

    I really enjoyed your post. I agree with you, the Chesapeake Bay is an important Eco system that the surround population feeds off of. By managing this invasive species, it will be one step in the right direction for the estuary’s health.