My sworn enemy at Sebago
By Shari Berkowitz
I’ve been a member of Sebago since, oh, about 2006, and I’ve made many wonderful friends over the years. Those of you who joined ten years ago may have been under my watch as Membership Chair. You’ve seen me capsize, sing, dance, cook, drink adult beverages and lead a book club. I like to think most of you are glad to see me when I come through the gates. But, I have one sworn enemy at Sebago. Given any chance I will cut this enemy down, stomp the stinker to the ground and haul the bastard to the compost heap. Can you guess my nemesis? It is the evil reed known as phragmites.
Tom and Rachel came to help chop down phragmites along the banks this past First Sunday Gardening morning. I briefly taught Tom what a phragmite looks like, and told him to cut those and nothing else. He quickly filled a wheelbarrow and soon a second one! He was a great general in the Army of Phragmite Fever. Rachel arrived a bit later, and when I showed her the phragmites, she compared them to a Chinese painting. Right, I said. That’s where they belong. When she saw the lovely grass growing along the shoreline [spartina – a good plant!], she was reminded of Native Americans gathering wild rice via canoe. Right again! Those are the grasses we want to encourage. Rachel wasted no time chopping down the phragmites along the top of the bank, the pile beside her growing tall. She was very interested to know that Sebago has had an Environmental Engineer help us figure out what to grow and what to chop out. We have been added to her list of organizations fighting the good fight for the environment.
Phragmites love to take over disturbed banks, overgrowing everything else and pushing it out. The local species, such as mussels, can’t do anything with the phragmites; they need the grass. So, in destroying the enemy, we cut him off at the knees, we do not yank him by the roots. That only encourages him to grow back stronger. The gardening shed has clippers, or you can use scissors, but always cut, never pull.
Below the phragmites grows a native species that many of you already hate: poison ivy. “Leaves of three, let it be” is the way to remember to keep away from it. Our current Sebago policy is: if you find poison ivy, send an email (with photos if you can) to Mary and Mary Ann, reporting as much detail as you can, so that they can find it. Don’t try to tangle with poison ivy on your own. If you do get the itchies, wash with soap and plenty of water. Dish soap will do, although they sell special poison ivy soap. Quicker washing (and changing of clothing) is better than slower, so grab the soap that is near to hand. Here is a link to more about poison ivy: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/poison-ivy/symptoms-causes/syc-20376485 When gardening, wear pants, sleeves and gloves, and don’t touch your face. Remember to never throw poison ivy into a fire, you could develop lesions in your lungs. If you chop phragmities, you might get a chance to reveal little poison ivy plants peeking through. Report the location of the poison ivy, and leave it for the experts. Remember your mission is focused on phragmites: Kill! Kill! Kill!
You need not be a knowledgeable gardener to fight this enemy. There are lots of Sebago members who can show you what a phragmite is if you’re not sure. Go ahead and chop ‘em down! Leave everything else for those who know more than Brooklyn Botany, like me: trees, grass, bushes and flowers. You can chop phragmites all day and they will soon grow back, so keep at it. Chop for 10 minutes every time you’re around and who knows, maybe we will beat the phragmites some day.
Now, if we can convince the knotweed, poison ivy and phragmites to fight each other, that would be a winning strategy! In the interim, I am drafting you into Shari’s Fighting Paddlers, get your clippers and get out there!