Rain loomed most of this past weekend and Sunday was a reminder that spring hasn’t yet closed the door on winter. Yet, with the snow long gone and the temperature creeping higher, we sneaked an expedition to nearby Potato Creek State Park for some early spring edibles.
There is a native variety of Phragmites australis, the common reed, and 150 years ago it was considered uncommon. Native Americans used it for a wide variety of goods such as flutes and woven mats. More recently however, the abundance and range of Phragmites increased dramatically. The growth was initially chalked-up to anthropogenic changes in habitat, pollution, soil chemistry and hydrology. Then, in 2002, Saltonstall demonstrated that this expansion was actually an invasion of a non-native haplotype which had replaced the natives and expanded into new regions. This non-native type is more closely related to populations in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and is now the most common in North America.
We weren’t expecting much green yet, but Phragmites shows you right where to look. Last year’s tall brown stalks still wave above wetlands where this species invades, crowding out native vegetation, changing hydrology and restricting wildlife habitat with its dense growth.
Distinguishing the North American native and the introduced type can be tricky. We were directed to our spot by a local naturalist, and we double checked using this Phragmites Field Guide.
The whole of the plant is edible, and while I’m looking forward to syrup and porridge later in the year, now we’re after the young green shoots sprouting from the base of the reed. Check back Wednesday for a simple recipe.