Cattails and common reed

Cattails are the iconic plants of the marsh in our area.  Native cattails (Typha latifolia) occurs in the marsh in the Bala Cynwyd park.  Long term walkers of the trail will also remember cattails in the tiny wetland near the Belmont Avenue bridge.  In recent years the cattails area have been reduced, possibly because of competition from Phragmites, common reed.  They haven't produced their typical "cattail" flowering stalk for some years. However, there is still one stand of cattail here, and volunteers are currently removing Phragmites in hopes that the cattail will prosper.  It is interesting to note that besides native cattails, there is a European species and also there are hybrids between the two.  We aren't sure which of these is present by the Belmont bridge; maybe after the stand recovers a bit we'll be able to tell. 

Phragmites australis, or common reed, is  a problematic invasive grass.  We are especially concerned with it in some areas of the trail because it hasn't yet gotten out of control on the trail, but it is threatening cattails and other marsh-loving plants.  Volunteers are working to control it in the Bala Cynwyd Park marsh and near the Belmont bridge.  The strategy is to cut the stalks of the grass as far below the surface as possible, so that the root is starved of oxygen.  It will probably take several years of diligent cutting to see a permanent reduction in the Phragmites. 

It is very important for volunteers doing this work to be able to distinguish the common reed from cattails.