Invasive phragmites grass is no match for amphibious Truxor machine

Invasive phragmites grass is no match for amphibious Truxor machine

This spring, the City of Windsor used an amphibious machine called a Truxor to remove most of the invasive phragmites grass that filled the pond in the Spring Garden Natural Area (SGNA)

Months later, a large pond in Spring Garden shows signs that natural species are returning to the area, which city naturalist Karen Cedar calls very encouraging.

"You can start to see that we actually might be able to win the war here against phragmites and have this beautiful pond system back to a functioning living laboratory again," she said.

Phragmites is an invasive species that takes over wetlands and marsh areas. Cedar said it chokes out other vegetation, preventing the growth of nearby plants and ultimately leading to the loss of an ecosystem's biodiversity.

Peter Duck/CBC

"The seeds are by the millions and it grows very densely, very thickly, very quickly," said Cedar.

Phragmites roots can grow up to 8.5 metres deep, while the plant itself can grow as high as six metres.

The invasive species doesn't just affect local plant life. It also has an affect on an ecosystem's wildlife.

"There are some birds that will nest in it, but most animals like muskrat can't eat it," said Cedar.

Windsor naturalists have tried several methods to rid Spring Garden of phragmites, according to Cedar.

In smaller areas, simply pulling out phragmites can be effective, but Cedar said the same method doesn't work in larger areas.

The city also tried herbicides, but that only works when phragmites grows on dry land. Cedar said the city even tried prescribed burns, which didn't work out this year.

However, thanks to a Truxor machine — which cuts phragmites in the water and then cuts the plant's stems and places them into four large mounds — the pond is once again thriving.

"If you can cut the stem underwater and the water stays over the cut stem long enough, it will actually then kill the roots. It doesn't let any oxygen to get to it. And that technique requires no herbicide," said Cedar.

She said the process was gentle on the ecosystem, adding that the leftover mounds were put to use by wildlife in the area.

Geese and other birds have returned to the pond. There were concerns it would impact the frogs, but Cedar said the animals didn't seem to mind at all.

"All the plant material coming up now is phragmites-free," said Cedar. "There's a few spots that we're going to touch, but there's so much native aquatic vegetation that's now coming up in this pond it's just very exciting."

Phragmites on Snake Lane

While Spring Garden's ecosystem is slowly recovering from phragmites, residents living near the Cahill Drain recently began employing a Truxor to deal with invasive phragmites in the area.

Janice Gilbert — who holds a PhD in environmental science and founded the Invasive Phragmites Control Centre non-profit organization — was hired by Frontlines Christian Fellowship to use her Truxor to clear phragmites growing along Snake Lane.

Steve Swancott, a building manager and congregation member, said the goal is to return Snake Lane "to its natural Carolinian forest state."

Karen Cedar

"It's going to be three, four years before we get a handle on the whole thing," he said. "And then there's gonna be lifelong maintenance of keeping these things out of the waterways."

According to Gilbert, the Truxor is only one of several different tools — including herbicides — capable of clearing away phragmites grass.

Dale Molnar/CBC

"We desperately need … water-safe herbicides," she said. "We don't yet have them in Canada. They have them in the United States, they've had them for several decades."

Gilbert's added that her organization needs additional government support to better tackle invasive phragmites.