Common Reed Control Project

Common reed (Phragmites australis) is a non-native invasive perennial grass that invades freshwater wetlands, brackish marshes, and the upland margins of salt marshes. It grows up to 20 feet tall and forms dense colonies that displace native plant species that provide better habitat for wildlife.

Common reed spreads vegetatively by rhizomes (a form of the plant stem that is usually found underground or on the surface of the ground) as well as by seed. Rhizomes from established common reed colonies are frequently carried by water to new locations where they establish new colonies. Efforts to control common reed are undertaken to prevent the further spread of this species and to restore native wetland plant communities.

Monitoring Locations

Allen’s Pond Wildlife Sanctuary (Dartmouth), Boston Nature Center (Mattapan), Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary (Worcester), Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary (Natick), Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary (Marshfield), Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary (Gloucester)O, Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary (Edgartown), Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary (Topsfield), Joppa Flats Education Center (Newburyport), Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary (Hampden), Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary (Barnstable), Nahant Thicket Wildlife Sanctuary (Nahant), Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary (Lenox), Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary (Worthington), Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary (Rowley), Skunknett River Wildlife Sanctuary (Barnstable), and Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary (Princeton).

Project Description

Mass Audubon has implemented projects to control common reed colonies at 18 wildlife sanctuaries across Massachusetts. Projects have ranged in size from the control of small newly established colonies covering only a few hundred square feet, to dense stands covering up to 15 acres. 

Although small colonies can sometimes be controlled by repeated hand removal, larger stands of common reed are controlled with a foliar application of an herbicide approved for use in wetlands. This herbicide treatment typically results in at least a 90% reduction in common reed density after the first year. 

Follow-up treatments in subsequent years are typically needed to achieve eradication. In implementing common reed management projects, Mass Audubon has received funding support from various sources, including the U. S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.

Salt Marsh Science Project

Since 1996, students in grades 5 through 12 on the North Shore have been working with Mass Audubon scientists to learn about salt marshes and common reed. The success of the project depends on student help. The more information we collect, the more we learn about this critically important habitat. Learn more about the project and find out hot to participate.