While reeds swaying gently in the breeze are a common scene in Minnesota lakes, those reeds have an invasive evil twin that groups are banding together to combat.

State and Becker County officials removed a section of the invasive reed along the Boyer Lake shoreline, near Lake Park, on Wednesday, Dec. 16 as part of a multi-year battle trying to contain the threatening species before it becomes too late.

The nonnative common reed, Phragmites australis, can grow more than 15 feet tall and have a 4-foot root system below the ground, which makes them difficult to eradicate once they enter the water, said Marsha Watland, agriculture inspector for Becker County.

"If it gets into the water, then it's really ugly," said Watland. "It's solid. No other vegetation grows, no other wildlife comes in."

Marsha Watland, agriculture inspector for Becker County, throws non-native common reeds into a trailer. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
Marsha Watland, agriculture inspector for Becker County, throws non-native common reeds into a trailer. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

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The section of reed removal on Wednesday was the only section along the Boyer Lake coastline.

"It's very important that we do not have it creep into the lake," she said, "because once it's there, it's going to be very difficult and a very different management plan."

Watland also said, even though the plume is pretty to look at, it should not be collected for any sort of floral arrangements because of the risk that it could spread within the county, state and neighboring states.

"Please don't collect it from the ditch," she said. "When you see beautiful grasses growing from the ditch, please don't cut them and move them. We don't know if the seed heads are sterile or you're going to end up with some plants that you really don't want."

The Boyer Lake reed removal was part of the cooperative weed management area, which brings together many different county and state agencies to help with the removal, she said. The cooperative weed management has been removing invasive plants together since 2006.

Members of the cooperative weed management team collect non-native common reeds near Boyer Lake, outside of Lake Park, Minn. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
Members of the cooperative weed management team collect non-native common reeds near Boyer Lake, outside of Lake Park, Minn. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

On Wednesday, members of the Becker County Soil and Water Conservation District, Minnesota Department of Transportation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, aquatic invasive species specialists and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources assisted with the weed removal by using weed whackers and loading the reeds into a trailer. The trailer was covered before it could be transported to the county landfill and burned, which, Watland said, is necessary for dealing with the noxious weed.

Another area with non-native common reeds, besides Boyer Lake, is near the Forrest Hills golf course, which the cooperative weed management team has continued to battle since 2014 with the help of golf course staff.

If private citizens want to remove their own non-native common reeds, Watland said, they should call her office so they can add it to their management plan.

"We're in a pretty neat county," she said. "With our 412 lakes, our lowlands, our marshes, this plant has just gotten really ugly...and I've been dealing with it for six years."

Spreading of the invasive species occurs through root fragment movement along eroded streams or contaminated soil, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The root system has the ability to grow up to 10 feet laterally in one growing season, which raises the risk of possible spread. Another way the reed spreads is through seed disbursement because of wind, water, animal and human activity.

The non-native common reed spread across the country during the 20th century and has been invading wetlands, lake shores, streambanks and marshy areas ever since, according to a Minnesota DNR fact sheet.

Identifying the non-native common reed can be difficult because of its native reed cousin, which isn't invasive, but the key identifiers are:

  • Ridged, hollow stems that are rough in texture
  • 15 to 20-inch long, 1-inch wide blue-green leaves arranged on one side of the stem
  • Dense, feathery panicle flowers that are typically purple in early development and golden late in the year
  • Flowering stalks that produce thousands of grayish seeds covered in fine, silky hairs that give it a fluffy appearance.

The plume of a non-native common reed, Phragmites australis. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
The plume of a non-native common reed, Phragmites australis. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

For more information on identifying native and non-native common reeds, consult the USDA field guide.

If private landowners want to transport their own non-native common reeds after they are removed from the ground, they need to receive a permit from the county agricultural inspector's office, Watland said.

Watland was named Minnesota's Outstanding Agriculture Inspector in 2019 and has served as Becker County's Agriculture Inspector since 2006.