What's Happening Now

Update on Muddy River Phragmites: Part 2

By Matt Eddy, MMOC Administrator

Astute observers agree that the Restoration Project’s dredging efforts caused some Phragmites root material to escape containment, float down to the Charlesgate area and begin sprouting. When root balls were observed outside the protective curtains deployed durig dredging, the MMOC reported that information to the Army Corps and Charter Contracting Company, and removal efforts were reprioritized. 

Preventing further spread will require regular monitoring by city and state agencies, as well as citizens, followed by reporting and prompt action.

Smaller patches of Phragmites and another wetland invasive plant (purple loosestrife) have been documented growing in other Muddy River areas now managed by Boston Parks, including in Justine Mee Liff Park (across from the Landmark Center) and along the length of Riverway Park.  Boston Parks Department’s Contract Compliance Manager Tom Timmons has engaged a company that specializes in invasives management in wetland areas, with a goal of developing a plan that can be applied across the full length of the Muddy River. Details on that proposal are not yet available, but the MMOC will report any developments as they arise.  

Certainly debate persists as to whether biannual herbicide treatment is the best and most sustainable method for combatting Phragmites. (It is the most common method in use in the US today.) A full assessment of other techniques—more frequent mechanical removal, cut-to-drown, prescribed burns, shading, smothering—separately and in combination will be made. Some advocate for letting the Phragmites grow naturally. 

There is currently no consensus in the scientific literature about the merit of one approach over another. Different communities report varying levels of progress with all tactics. For the Muddy River Restoration Project, the perceived benefits of flood risk mitigation, Olmsted-designed landscape restoration, habitat diversification, and recreational use of the riverbanks collectively provide reasonable justification for continued Phragmites management. In an effort to balance effectiveness with cost, the current choice is herbicide treatment.  

The biology of Phragmites—its deep-rooted character, ability to colonize new areas, rapid growth rate, ability to recover from physical damage, and sheer tenacity—suggests that the reeds will not be eradicated from the Back Bay Fens in the short term. The Fens will require constant vigilance and long-term management. The City of Boston, having now invested more than $3 million in removing invasive species, has a strong incentive to prevent its return. The planning process for doing so is under way.

More eyes on the River and more communication with public agencies will be key to keeping the Muddy River as Phrag-free as possible.

Watch this space for updates. 

Top photo:

A Phragmites root ball floating in the Charlesgate area, downstream of the active Project work areas. Some of these root balls have been observed to be sprouting new stems. Photo: Matt Eddy