Removing Invasive Plants

Restores Native Plant Community

Removing invasive Phragmites reeds and installing native plants and trees has restored Mentor Marsh, resulting in the return of a variety of native fish and wildlife species.


Mentor Marsh is one of the largest natural marshes remaining along Lake Erie’s shoreline. The 4 mile-long marsh was originally a swamp forest that several species of Lake Erie fish used as spawning and nursery grounds. The swamp forest was also recognized by the National Audubon Society as an important birding area, providing migratory and nesting habitat for a wide variety of song birds and waterfowl. The health of this unique ecosystem began to degrade in the 1960s, however, when a salt landfill was installed at the swamp’s perimeter. The drastically increased salinity quickly killed many of the swamp trees and marsh plants that had defined the ecosystem. In their absence, non-native phragmites—a water reed—gained a foothold, dominating the ecosystem within just a few years. Phragmites grows in very dense stands, outcompeting native plants for resources and degrading habitat for native fish and wildlife. Thanks to several grants from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and others, the Cleveland Museum of Natural history has been able to remove most of the phragmites and restore the natural ecology of Mentor Marsh. Workers sprayed large phragmites stands with herbicide from helicopters, and took amphibious vehicles into the marsh to remove persistent stands by hand. As the invasive phragmites were removed many native plants, such as bur-reed, began to naturally reemerge from the long-dormant seed bank. Workers accelerated the transition to a natural ground cover by planting and staking over 19,000 native plants such as willow and button bush. So far, over 200 acres of Mentor Marsh have been successfully restored. The Museum is working to secure additional funding, and hopes to eventually eradicate invasive plants from the site.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Invasive species
  • Degraded fish and wildlife habitat
  • Lack of access to site for outdoor recreation


Marsh plants over an expanse

Native plants in Mentor Marsh have replaced the phragmites that dominated the ecosystem prior to restoration. Credit: Laura Dempsey.

Results and Accomplishments

Over 200 acres of Mentor Marsh have been successfully restored by removing invasive phragmites and allowing native marsh plants to reemerge from the seed bank. Fish and wildlife not seen in the marsh for years or even decades have begun returning, including river otters and beavers. Norther pike and yellow perch have started using Mentor Marsh as spawning and nursery habitat again. Bald eagles, marsh wren, Virginia rail, sora rail, least bittern, and American bittern have been seen nesting there, while several sparrow species have begun feeding in Mentor Marsh during their migrations. The return of these birds has also significantly enhanced opportunities for bird-watching.