Smithsonian Environmental Research Center | WYPR

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

As Climate Changes, Scientists Re-Think Phragmites

Oct 17, 2019
Pamela D'Angelo

If you visit the tiny Virginia town of Saxis, just across Pocomoke Sound from Crisfield, Maryland, you’ll be greeted by fields of bobbing, feathery heads of 10-foot phragmites.

The tall reed launched its invasion of the Chesapeake Bay centuries ago when the plants hitched a ride across the Atlantic with the first European colonists. And for the most part, it’s been seen as a pesky plant that clogged wetlands and waterways, taking over the habitat of native plants.

Pamela D'Angelo

The wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay are nurseries for blue crabs, striped bass, menhaden and other important species. The variety of plants in them absorbs pollutants like nitrogen that run off city streets and farm fields.

And they protect properties from flooding by stabilizing shorelines and absorbing storm water.