The Invasive Phragmites

Invasive Phragmites: Great Salt Lake Phragmites Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Great Salt Lake Phragmites
Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Those unfamiliar with the history of the Utah’s wetlands may see Phragmites and say, “What a beautiful, elegant plant! It looks so graceful blowing along the shore.”

However, the plant’s attractiveness and ability to absorb pollutants may not compensate for its negative impacts.

Phragmites is an invasive perennial grass that now thrives in much of the wetlands around the Great Salt Lake and other marshes in northern Utah. It grows in dense clusters and normally reaches 5 to 10 feet in height. If the conditions are right it can reach 15 feet.

The patches of grass are so dense that wetland managers are called out each year to rescue duck hunters – who are lost in the Phragmites.

Karin Kettenring, associate professor of wetland ecology in the Department of Watershed Sciences at USU and her research team have been studying Utah Phragmites for the past decade.

Kettenring explains why Phragmites is a concern, “We fear it is fundamentally changing the habitat of Great Salt Lake wetlands which are renowned for being a home for migratory birds including waterfowl and shore birds.”

The exotic grass most likely started in the Great Salt Lake wetlands after the flooding of 1983. The flood washed out the marshes. When the water levels receded, the salty water had destroyed all the native vegetation in the wetlands. Phragmites then moved in. By 2011, the exotic grass had spread over 24,000 acres.

Mowing Phragmites Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Mowing Phragmites
Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Scientists believe humans inadvertently brought Phragmites to Utah, since birds don’t migrate East and West, and the birds usually don’t eat the seeds. Someone’s boat may have transported the seeds into Utah. They sat dormant in the soil until the conditions were perfect, then the spread of Phragmites began.

Today an average small patch of Phragmites, about 20 feet square, can spread a couple yards a year just from the stems it sends out above and below the ground. However, research has shown it’s not the stems that cause the most reproduction – but the seeds.

Karin_Kettenring-in-the-Great-Salt-Lake-Wetlands Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Karin_Kettenring-in-the-Great-Salt-Lake-Wetlands
Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Karen Mock, associate professor in the Department of Wildland Resources and a long-term collaborator on this project helped Kettenring with the genetic work.

They tested the genetics of a lot of Phragmites pulled from the same patches and found many different genotypes – proving the plants came from different seeds, not the stems of neighboring plants.

With these results, Kettenring’s lab discovered the best way to control the invasive grass is to first control the seed production by mowing the grass mid-summer to keep it from spreading. Then in the fall spraying the area with herbicide three years in a row. An herbicide approved for use in wetlands can be used – such as Rodeo.

If the Phragmites has been there only a few years then the seeds of the native vegetation will still be in the soil, and they’ll come back on their own.

However, if the Phragmites has been there for a long time then re-seeding of native plants will be necessary.

To determine the best way to re-seed wetlands, Kettenring partnered with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands and David England – one of Kettenring’s past graduate students. England has spent extensive time in the lab determining how to help seeds germinate.

Emily Martin, Kettenring’s current graduate student will also help with the UDWR reseeding as she searches for techniques to make seeding more effective.

Ultimately their goal is to restore native plant communities to keep Phragmites from coming back and restore habitat for important migratory birds.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Text: Shauna Leavitt

Sources & Additional Reading

How to control Phragmites
Kettenring, Karin, Rupp, Larry, Whitesides, Ralph, Hazelton, Eric, Phragmites Control at the Urban/Rural Interface, 2014, https://works.bepress.com/karin_kettenring/92/

Extensive readings about Phragmites:
https://works.bepress.com/karin_kettenring/

Video: USU researchers mowing Phragmites in the Great Salt Lake wetlands. The passenger is Chad Cranney a past graduate student of Karin Kettenring’s:
https://bft.usu.edu/rqcq9

*****

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Phragmites-Utah’s Grassy Invader, Wild About Utah, August 23, 2012, http://wildaboututah.org/phragmites-utahs-grassy-invader/

Common Reed, Phragmites australis. National Invasive Species Information Center, USDA National Agricultural Library, https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/aquatics/commonreed.shtml

Phragmites Factsheet, US Fish & Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/GOMCP/pdfs/phragmitesQA_factsheet.pdf

Phragmites Phragmites australis, Aquatic Invasive Species, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Sept 17, 2013, https://wildlife.utah.gov/habitat/ans/phragmites.php

Phragmites Phragmites australis, Plants Database, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service(NRCS), https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=phau7

Jack Loves the Four Seasons

Red Admiral Butterfly, Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS Digital Library
Red Admiral Butterfly
Thomas G. Barnes
US FWS Digital Library

Glacier Lilies
Erythronium grandiflorum
Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore


I love the four seasons. Having spent my 72 years residing in the mid latitudes, I’ve learned to celebrate each of our seasons, but especially spring!

This is the rebirth flush with abundant water, new greenery, and air filled with bird song and sweet aromas as new flowers perfume the air hoping to lure in a pollinator.

With mid-April upon us and our 42 degree latitude, spring is in full swing here in northern Utah! Winter departs grudgingly slapping us with snow squalls intermingled with glorious, early summer days, a wild roller coaster ride which I truly enjoy!
I’m an avid phenology follower. Phenology is the study of how life adapts to seasonal changes. I revel in the first floral bloom, the first neotropical birds returning from Latin America with a heart full of song, and newly emerged, gaudy butterflies.

With a relatively stable climate, until recently, the timing of these events has evolved to near perfection
Let’s take a closer look at some of these phenomena. I’ll begin with our neotropical birds such as lazuli buntings, yellow warblers, and Western tanagers to mention a few. These species spend over half of their year in Mexico, Central and South America flying thousands of miles to for the breeding and nesting season in the Intermountain West. This may seem a bit extreme for these tiny flurries of life.

On closer inspection, you will find they have good reason for this daunting and dangerous task. The tropics have a relatively stable climate without the dramatic seasonal change that we experience. This results in relatively stable populations of flowers and insects, the primary food sources for most species. Further, the ratio of daylight to darkness is nearly constant with 12 hours of each. Our days lengthen as we journey toward summer solstice with nearly 16 hours of daylight! This allows a burst of energy to flow through ecosystems resulting in eruptive populations of insects and floral bloom. It also offers long hours of daylight for parents to gather food for their young which grow rapidly toward fledglings, thus reducing the possibility of predation and also preparing them for the arduous flight south as fall approaches.

Let’s examine flowers and insects. With our very warm winter and spring, I was expecting a much earlier arrival of both and was not disappointed. I counted 17 species of flowers by the second week of April! And butterflies were on a similar schedule with 9 different species during the last week of March- remarkably early! Although delighted, it occurred to me that returning birds may not be so pleased. If the flowers begin to fade, and insects begin their downward slide at the peak of birds rearing their young, trouble is afoot! A five year Audubon study revealed that 1/3 of our birds are predicted to be severely impacted by these rapid climate shifts.

On a more positive note, spring will continue as will bird song, vernal waterfalls, eruptions of wildflowers and butterflies. And spring repeats itself as we move to higher elevations. As cornices on our mountain ridges recede, up pops flowers for yet another spring bloom, and with them butterflies, bees, and birds!

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS
Pictures Lilies: Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Kervin, Linda, USA National Phenology Network, Wild About Utah, July 2, 2009, http://wildaboututah.org/usa-national-phenology-network/

Hellstern, Ron, Journey North, Wild About Utah, March 19, 2018, http://wildaboututah.org/journey-north/

Greene, Jack, I Love the Four Seasons, Wild About Utah, May 3, 2015, http://wildaboututah.org/i-love-the-four-seasons/

Conners, Deanna, Why Earth has 4 seasons, EarthSky.org, September 20, 2016, http://earthsky.org/earth/can-you-explain-why-earth-has-four-seasons

State Symbols

Most people could probably name the state bird or the state tree, but what about the state gem? The state grass? State fruit? Do you know why they are important to Utah? Here are just a few of Utah’s State Symbols that you might not have known.

State Symbols: Sherry-colored topaz from Maynard's Claim (Pismire Knolls), Thomas Range, Juab County, Utah, USA, By Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10450654
Sherry-colored topaz from Maynard’s Claim (Pismire Knolls), Thomas Range, Juab County, Utah, USA, By Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10450654
Topaz was named Utah’s state gem in 1969 because of its abundance on Topaz or Thomas Mountain in Juab County. In this area, perfect topaz crystals can be found and collected. This semiprecious gem can also be found in Beaver and Toole counties. Topaz can be found in a variety of colors, but in the Thomas Range it is known for its sherry hue. When exposed to sunlight, amber colored topaz will often become clear. Topaz collecting is free and open to the public in most areas and could be a great way to get to know Utah a little bit better.

Utah’s state grass was selected in 1990 to be Indian Ricegrass. As you might suspect, indian ricegrass was given its name because of the significance in Native American life. This tough bunchgrass was a common food source and was absolutely crucial to survival when the corn crop failed.

Indian Ricegrass Courtesy US National Park Service
Indian Ricegrass
Courtesy US National Park Service
It can be found in wet and dry areas throughout the West. Long ago this grass was important for Native Americans; now it is important in fighting wind erosion and grazing cattle.

The cherry did not become the state fruit until 1997 when a group of second graders did their research and petitioned for the fruit to be recognized. Cherry was discovered to be the most economically beneficial fruit for Utah when compared to other fruits like peaches and apples. Both sweet and tart cherries are grown commercially in Utah. Utah is the only state ranked in the top five cherry producing states for both types of cherries.

US Cherries for sale in Korea Courtesy USDA
US Cherries for sale in Korea
Courtesy USDA
The cherry is native to Asia, but flourishes in Utah’s environment.

The state insect might be a little easier to guess than the state grass and state fruit. Utah is known as the beehive state, so naturally our state insect is the honeybee. When settlers first arrived in Utah they called it Deseret which means honeybee. Some native bees are listed as endangered species, but many Utahns have become “backyard beekeepers” to help these bees survive.

Honeybee Extracts Nectar Courtesy NASA ClimateKids
Honeybee Extracts Nectar
Courtesy NASA ClimateKids
Bees might seem insignificant, but are actually the unsung heroes of the world’s food supply. Growing bee friendly plants or becoming a beekeeper yourself are great ways to help Utah’s honeybee thrive.

No matter where in the state of Utah you are, you can learn more about these plants, animals, and rocks and see them in action. As a Chinese proverb says, “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

This is Aspen Flake and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US NPS and US FWS
Text: Aspen Flake

Additional Reading & Listening

State Symbols, as found on OnlineLibrary.Utah.gov, http://onlinelibrary.utah.gov/research/utah_symbols/

Utah as found in StateSymbolsUSA.org: https://statesymbolsusa.org/states/united-states/utah

Gorman, Steve, U.S. Lists a Bumble Bee Species as Endangered for First Time, Scientific American, A Division of Nature America, Inc., Jan 11, 2017,
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-lists-a-bumble-bee-species-as-endangered-for-first-time/

Hrala, Josh, 7 Bee Species Have Been Added to The US Endangered Species List, ScienceAlert.com, 3 OCT 2016, https://www.sciencealert.com/seven-species-of-bees-have-been-added-to-the-endangered-species-list

Insects: Bees in trouble and agriculture decline, Endangered Species International, Inc. http://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/insects6.html

Ingraham, Christopher, Believe it or not, the bees are doing just fine, Washington Post, October 10, 2016
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/10/believe-it-or-not-the-bees-are-doing-just-fine/

Farewell Autumn

Cache Valley Autumn Colors Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Cache Valley Autumn Colors
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Many people enjoy Autumn as their favorite season of the year. Temperatures are comfortable, most pesky insects are absent, animal migrations are evident, and beautiful Fall colors on the trees and shrubs are stunning. But why do these deciduous plants change color? Consider daylight, temperature, and chemistry.

Spring and summer growth and leaf production are due to photosynthesis, a process where plants use light to synthesize the cell’s chlorophyll into transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates such as sugars and starch. The cells containing chlorophyll also give the plant its green color. But there are other pigments, besides green, within the leaves all year. Xanthophyll produces orange and yellow colors, anthocyanin develops shades of red. When daylight decreases and temperatures drop in the North, the leaves stop their food-making and the green chlorophyll breaks down, leaving the other pigments to dominate the new Autumn colors.

Soon after these vivid colors appear, the tree develops special cells where leaves are attached. Those cells allow the stems to break away from the tree, due to gravity or the wind, and creates a small leaf scar. Although we may not appreciate bare limbs all winter, heavy snows collected by leaves could cause massive breaking of branches due to the additional weight.

In Southern climates, some broad-leaf trees may keep their leaves and only experience changes during wet and dry seasons. Many stay green all year. And, of course, conifers like spruce, pines and firs, retain their needle-like leaves all year.

Now picture yourself in your favorite, quiet, outdoor setting in the Fall as I read a section from the beautiful writings of Aldo Leopold, found in his book “A Sand County Almanac”. It is titled November – If I Were the Wind.

The wind that makes music in November corn is in a hurry. The stalks hum, the loose husks whisk skyward in half-playful swirls, and the wind hurries on.

In the marsh, long windy waves surge across the grassy sloughs, beat against the far willows. A tree tries to argue, bare limbs waving, but there is no detaining the wind.

On the sandbar there is only wind, and the river sliding seaward. Every wisp of grass is drawing circles on the sand. I wander over the bar to a driftwood log, where I sit and listen to the universal roar, and to the tinkle of wavelets on the shore. The river is lifeless: not a duck, heron, marsh-hawk or gull but has sought refuge from the wind.

Out of the clouds I hear a faint bark, as of a far-away dog. It is strange how the world cocks its ears at that sound, wondering. Soon it is louder: the honk of geese, invisible, but coming on.

The flock emerges from the low clouds, a tattered banner of birds, dipping and rising, blown up and blown down, blown together and blown apart, but advancing, the wind wrestling lovingly with each winnowing wing. When the flock is a blur in the far sky I hear the last honk, sounding taps for summer.

It is warm behind the driftwood now, for the wind has gone with the geese.
So would I—if I were the wind.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Autumn Colors, Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, http://wildaboututah.org/autumn-colors/

Red leaves in autumn: What’s in it for the tree?, Holly Strand, Oct 18, 2012, http://wildaboututah.org/red-leaves-in-autumn-whats-in-it-for-the-tree/

Autumn Leaf Color Change, Linda Kervin, Sept 23, 2010, http://wildaboututah.org/autumn-leaf-color-change/