War on invasive plant

allows native species to return

In 2003, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources declared war on an invasive strain of common reed, known as Phragmites, which had taken over large areas of William C. Sterling State Park. The park, which lies within the River Raisin delta, provides critical habitat for fish and wildlife and supports several rare and threatened species of plants and animals.


The River Raisin delta in western Lake Erie was once a complex of Great Lakes marshes and lakeplain prairies that provided a haven for fish and wildlife. But three centuries of human activities—many of which were designed to facilitate the movement of boats and commerce through the marsh—caused extensive damage to the delta. Vast areas of fish and wildlife habitat were altered, which allowed invasive plant species to gain a foothold and eventually replace native species. Phragmites is one of several nonnative plants that have displaced native vegetation and the wildlife those plants supported. The invasive strain of Phragmites, which is not native to Michigan, can reach heights of 20 feet. Stands of the plant can be so dense they create walls of vegetation that can block the view of waterways and choke out all native plant species that benefit fish and wildlife. The state of Michigan in 2003 launched an effort to reduce the abundance of Phagmites in Sterling State Park, a 1,240-acre park that lies within the River Raisin delta. The project was part of an effort to restore a Great Lakes marsh and lakeplain prairie. It was also a test of whether crews could rein in a large stand of Phragmites, which is spreading rapidly in wetlands across the Great Lakes region.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Lack of native habitat
  • Invasive species


People removing invasive species

Invasive species are difficult to remove. Removals, like the one pictured here, are important for native plants and animals to thrive. Credit: Michigan Sea Grant.

Results and Accomplishments

Using repeated applications of herbicides and controlled burns to kill Phragmites, crews reduced the abundance of the invasive plant by about 85 percent. With Phragmites controlled, a diverse mix of native plants returned to the marsh.