Young shoots, valuable targets
Harvesting young Phragmites shoots early in the growing season provides multiple benefits. They are tender and lend themselves well to meals, and their harvest will also decrease the reproductive potential of the plant and may help prevent additional colonization. Shoots grow from the terminal nodes of the rhizomes underground and mature into reproductive bodies. Throughout the growing season, they will produce seeds that are blown away to colonize another patch, and though seed viability of Phragmites is somewhat low, harvesting shoots before they have a chance to produce seeds can prevent spread!Be wary of your surroundings
As previously stated, plant roots sequester heavy metals from soils so do not collect from areas in which there may be industrial runoff in the environment. If you have any uncertainty about the quality of the soil or the identity of your Phragmites (native vs. invasive), please do not hesitate to contact your local Department of Natural Resources representative. When they hear you are looking to do some invasive species control, they will likely be eager to assist and advise you.
Wetter is better!
Phragmites australis grows in the wetlands and is easiest to collect when the ground is completely saturated. With the ground almost muddy, it is easy to stick your hands in and feel around for the rhizomes and stolons. These are soft and fleshy stems underground from which new buds grow on the terminal nodes.
Wear gardening gloves
If your hands are like mine, with thin skin and weak fingers, you’ll need the extra grip for pulling and protection from herbaceous neighbors with potentially sharp thorns (there was an unknown Rubus species near our collection site that was particularly ornery). If you are collecting in the late winter or early spring as we did, the area will have just thawed so the wet earth will also be cold and gloves will enable you to harvest for a longer period of time.
Limit your impact
In most locales, invasive Phragmites is the predominant species but may also have competing native neighbors; so try to minimize the collateral damage. Your collection site should look the way it was when you arrived minus Phragmites. Once you have finished collecting, be sure to properly destroy your unwanted collections as colonization by rhizomes is a dominant form of transmission!