You could be looking the enemy right in the eye and not know it is there. Such is the life of those who are fighting to eliminate phragmites (pronounced frag-mightees). Nobody knows this better than Nancy Vidler, chairperson of the Lambton Shores Phragmites Community Group (LSPCG). “It is invasive phragmites australis and it was first seen in Canada in 1908 on the east coast,” Nancy says. “Gradually it was making its way across the country. It has been described as Canada’s most invasive plant.” Phragmites are very hardy plants that grow four metres in height. The roots give off toxins that kill off native vegetation surrounding it so that it completely destroys the habitat of many of the special species across Ontario. “It creates dead zones so there is nothing else there – no other species can survive.”

LSPCG was formed in 2012 and is a non-profit group of volunteers committed to working together with other organizations and private landowners to restore wetland habitats and beaches by controlling Phragmites. There are ten board members who all remain concerned about the impact of phragmites on their community. They were recently recognized by the province as experts in Phragmites management. 

Concern for the Phragmites in Lambton Shores began in 2009 when members of a local cottage associations began to notice a change in their environment. Nancy consulted the conservation authority and hosted a meeting on coastal dunes where they discovered Phragmites. “Originally, I had no idea what it was. I was sent all kinds of information on Phragmites as well as an invitation to a workshop that was being given in Southampton.” Unfortunately, by this time phragmites were on their beaches and had begun taking over. “Once it gets established it is the root system that is most frightening. The roots will go 10 metres deep and 25 metres in length. Every 30 centimetres or so a new plant is formed along with the root system.”

To battle the invasive giants, the cottage association hired a contractor that was familiar with sensitive environments. They did species inventories and since it was on dry land they were able to apply herbicides and were successful in getting rid of them. “Then we looked around and realized unless we got it under control in the Ausable River and the creek that empties into the beach, it would continue to be a big issue not just for us, but for all of the shoreline.”

Since then LSPCG has remained committed to taking action against phragmites and control has been initiated on over 120 ha (300 acres) in Lambton Shores. Another important part of their mission is education. “We go in and help people get started and help them set up community information sessions because education is such an important component of this.” Nancy adds the key to success is ongoing maintenance. “We all feel very passionate about getting rid of it and seeing the shoreline cleaned up,” Nancy says. “Seeing people looking after it on their property and able to enjoy the beautiful Lake Huron sunsets is very rewarding.”