Phragmites can be seen along many roadways in Oakland County, including John R Road in Troy.

Phragmites can be seen along many roadways in Oakland County, including John R Road in Troy.

Photo provided by the Road Commission for Oakland County

Road Commission attacks phragmites on local roadways

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published September 18, 2019


OAKLAND COUNTY — This month, the Road Commission for Oakland County is working to eradicate phragmites, an aggressive reed that chokes out native plants, interferes with roadside drainage, easily catches fire and blocks roadways.

For the past four years, Road Commission officials — who helped to form the Oakland County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area organization, which is spearheading invasive species eradication efforts countywide — have been treating phragmites along road rights of way with CISMA by spraying the plants with an herbicide.

This September, Road Commission spokesman Craig Bryson said, the work will continue in 45 Oakland County municipalities.

“It is an important issue for us,” he said. “They are an invasive species, so they are destroying the native cattails that used to be all over Michigan and are being pushed out by the phragmites now.”

Oakland County CISMA Director Erica Clites said the plants, which are commonly found near roadsides and in wetlands and can grow up to 18 feet tall, can also be a safety concern.

“They’re really a problem along roadways,” she said. “This time of year, they flop over — especially if they get rained on — so they can literally be laying in the roadway. The other problem is, if you are coming to an intersection, when they are standing up that tall, you often can’t see around them to see if there is a car coming from another direction, so it creates a lot of safety problems.”

Bryson said the invasive species creates havoc with the drainage along the county’s roads.

“They grow in the ditches and they can block the culverts, so they create a real drainage problem,” he said. “Also, because they get so big, in the fall, when they die and become really dry and brittle, they can become a fire risk.”

With nearly 80% of the phragmites plant located beneath the soil, Clites said, the tall, plumed grass spreads rapidly by below-ground stems. The herbicide treatment, according to officials, has proven to be the best way to tackle the growth and spread of phragmites.

“The only way to really get rid of it is to treat it with chemicals. That’s always done in the fall, this time of year, because the plant is sending its nutrients down to its roots. If you treat it with the herbicide now, it will take the herbicide down to the roots and kill the whole plant,” Clites said.

When the phragmites eradication program started in 2015, the Road Commission initially sprayed 45 miles of road rights of way. Crews increased the effort to span 68 miles in 2016 and 2017, and they covered 95 miles in 2018.

This year, a total of $91,000 is available for the program  — including $70,000 from the Road Commission and matches from various communities — and officials expect to spray 92 miles of road rights of way in 45 communities.

For more information, visit or contact the Road Commission at (248) 858-4804 or at