Task force targets invasive marsh reed

By Stephanie Beard

Marsh weedAn aggressive marsh weed is invading South Carolina’s coastal wetlands. Phragmites, or common reed, occurs naturally throughout the United States. However, the native species cannot compete with an introduced type, Phragmites australis, which first appeared in Winyah Bay near Georgetown in the 1970’s. 

The non-native species changes the marsh ecosystems, decreasing native biodiversity and reducing wildlife habitat.  It has invaded several thousand acres of tidal marshes and wetland impoundments needed by migratory waterfowl and wading birds.

Jack Whetstone, Clemson Extension aquatic specialist at the Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science, is working with the Winyah Bay Focus Area Task Force to develop controls for the invasive plant. Matt Nespeca of The Nature Conservancy and Whetstone co-chair the Nuisance Species Committee.

The committee includes representatives from Clemson, The Nature Conservancy, the University of South Carolina, S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SC DNR), Ducks Unlimited, private industry, and landowners. They are determining the extent of the infestation and testing various EPA-approved herbicides in conjunction with water control structures that affect salinity to kill the noxious reed. 

The group hopes to increase public awareness of this threat to the state’s marshes. They also have developed a cost-share program to help landowners control phragmites in the Winyah Bay area, funded by SC DNR, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

For information: Jack Whetstone, 843-546-6321, jwhtstn@clemson.edu