St. Clair Shores Beautification Commission tackles purple loosestrife, phragmites

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published September 23, 2021

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — An age-old problem is experiencing a resurgence in St. Clair Shores — invasive species choking out native plants and changing the environment for local wildlife.

“This is an old problem. It is not a new problem. We need your support,” Beautification Commission Chair Lil Claycomb said to City Council Sept. 7.

She and other members of the commission were before council members to request their help in ridding the city of purple loosestrife and phragmites.

“For this project, we need everyone. It’s all for our benefit,” she said. “The purple loosestrife and phragmites — because of the wet that we have had last year and this year — have blossomed more and more.”

Claycomb said they are asking the city, as well as local businesses and residents, to look for and remove the plants from their properties.

Beautification Commission member Michelle Hayden said there are different ways the commission can tackle the problem, depending on if the plants are on city and government property or on private residents’ and businesses’ properties.

“We can’t just walk on someone’s property and start yanking up plants,” she said. “We want to come up with a process ... make contact with people, discuss the problem.”

Phragmites are a non-native grass that has invaded wetlands across the country, where it out-competes native wetland plants and reduces the available habitat of native fish and wildlife, along with costing millions of dollars each year to manage in the United States.

Purple loosestrife is a species restricted under Michigan law because the weed spreads vigorously in moist soil conditions and crowds out native wetland plant species. The problem, Hayden said, is that it’s pretty.

“Some people are definitely going to say, ‘No, no, no, my grandma Nancy gave me that plant. I don’t want to get rid of it,’” she said. “Purple loosestrife is called the beautiful, insidious plant.”

Beautification members say that’s why outreach and education is so important.

“We feel that if people understand and realize what it does, the enemy it is to our lake ... you will realize the value of getting rid of this,” Claycomb said.

Purple loosestrife is a European plant that was brought to this country intentionally, Hayden said, while phragmites came from Europe unintentionally, it is believed, in ships’ ballast.

Claycomb said the Beautification Commission would work with homeowners to rid their properties of the plants, even digging them up properly themselves, if needed. There are specific procedures to be followed to remove the plants when they are in bloom or have gone to seed to prevent further spread.

Councilman John Caron suggested adding the two plant species to the city’s noxious weeds ordinance.

“That would give the city authorization to tell people, hey, you have to have this removed,” he said.

Mayor Kip Walby said such an amendment to the ordinance would be placed on an upcoming City Council agenda.

Beautification members said anything the city can do would be a step in the right direction.

“It’s a losing battle in a lot of ways (but) we have to do something or they’ll be the only thing we have along the lakefront and the water will be stagnant,” Hayden said.