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Not All Botanical Discoveries Are Happy Ones

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Monday, February 01, 2010

ANHC Botanist Theo Witsell and Chief of Acquisitions and Stewardship Bryan Rupar made an important but unhappy plant discovery recently in Craighead County. While on a trip to look for rare plants and habitats on Crowley’s Ridge, they made a different sort of discovery — a population of common reed (Phragmites australis) — growing in a wet area along the railroad tracks that parallel State Highway 49 northeast of Jonesboro. This site represents the third known site for this non-native invasive plant in Arkansas, and the first in the northern part of the state. It had previously been collected south of Little Rock in Pulaski County (where it can be seen from I-30 in wetlands east of 65th Street) and from a borrow pit near Conway in Faulkner County.

Common reed is a large grass (up to 18 feet tall) that forms dense colonies from creeping rhizomes (horizontal underground stems). Patches are so dense that common reed is capable of excluding all other plant species from wetlands it has invaded. Interestingly, there are both native and non-native varieties of common reed in North America. The native variety, which is not known from Arkansas, is not invasive. The non-native variety, which is believed to have been accidentally introduced to North America from Europe in the late 18th or early 19th Century, is extremely aggressive. This species almost certainly occurs elsewhere in Arkansas and will no doubt be found in other sites in the future.

Pictured: Theo Witsell standing amongst common reed (Phragmites australis).

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