Common Reed: How a Rooster Gave us Something to Crow About

It isn’t everyday that a weed manager feels the need to trade in their work boots for a day spent surrounded by home decor and scented candles.  Remarkably, such was the case this week for WeedWise program manager Sam Leininger.

A screenshot of the rooster for sale online as well as showing local availability

Early in the week Sam was alerted to the possibility that a national retailer, Pier 1 Imports may be selling decorative roosters made from an invasive weed known as European common reed (Phragmites australis). This immediately caught Sam’s attention because common reed is an Oregon class B noxious weed and is not known to occur in Clackamas County.  As such the WeedWise program has deemed it a priority for prevention and eradication.

Why We Care

Typically, here at the WeedWise program we applaud the responsible use of invasive weeds.  Removal activities undertaken by invasivores and artisans whether they be for food, furniture, baskets, art, or other purposes may help to reduce local populations of invasive weeds.  Unfortunately, the roosters in question are made in such a manner that their plumage is made from inflorescences that may contain mature common reed seeds. Improper handling of these roosters could spread these seeds inadvertently.

European common reed inflorescence

Areas most susceptible to invasion by common reed are wetlands and marshes including stormwater catchments and bioswales.  Imagine a rooster being purchased at a local store, and as the customer walks the rooster to their car, a number of viable seeds are dropping onto the pavement in the parking lot.  During the next storm, the seeds are washed into a stormwater catchment basin, or bioswale where they are able to establish.  These bioswales are also typically engineered with high water outflows to prevent local flooding during storm events.  In such events common reed seeds spread further into a nearby wetlands, streams, and natural areas.

Although, it may seem outlandish that a piece of home decor could spread an invasive weed, the possibility for introduction is real.  Furthermore, if common reed does establish, the impacts to the local ecology can be profound.

Impacts of common reed

A large infestation of common reed

Common reed to widely recognized as a highly invasive weed and has been prohibited or listed as a noxious weed in at least 7 states including Oregon.  Once established in an area common reed spreads to forms dense stands that displace native vegetation.  In forming dense stands, common reed creates a simplified landscape that is incapable of supporting a diversity of wildlife that might otherwise thrive in these wetland systems.

Common reed also rapidly spreads to fill in wetlands reducing the water flow in the system, and reducing flood retention of these systems.  In the rainy Pacific Northwest, the proper function of our storm water and wetland systems is important to prevent local flooding.

Spreading the word and not the weeds

The common reed roosters were first discovered by a “Plant Health Trade Compliance Officer for Nebraska and Iowa working for USDA-APHIS-PPQ” that was then reported to the Weed Control Superintendent, for Lancaster Co. Nebraska and positively identified as European common reed.  The information was then shared with the North American Invasive Species Management Association (NAISMA) through their Facebook Page and then shared by invasive species programs from across the country including one of Sam’s colleagues and a former co-worker Dr. David Coyle, with the Southern Regional Extension Forestry (SREF) Forest Health Program who brought it to Sam’s attention.

The last European common reed rooster  in Clackamas County  now slated for disposal.

Upon learning about the story, Sam checked the online store and found that three of the roosters were available at one of the two stores in Clackamas County. In an effort to hopefully avoid any unintentional introductions, Sam went to the local store and found one of the roosters on the floor.  He brought it to the counter and asked to speak to the store manager. To Sam’s surprise, the store manager saw the rooster and immediately knew why he was there. The store manager mentioned that she had received an email from the Pier 1 Imports corporate office that had instructed store managers to remove them from the floor. The store managers said that they had removed two of the roosters, but that the third one had been moved around the store and they hadn’t had a chance to track it down yet.

Sam shared copies of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Noxious Weed Program common reed brochure, and weed profile, as well as some general information about the WeedWise program with the store manager. The manager thanked Sam for the information and mentioned that she would share the information with her regional supervisor.

The store manager mentioned that the items were slated for disposal. Sam offered to dispose of the roosters and even offered to pay for them to assure their destruction. She said that she was not allowed to sell or distribute them. As such, Sam spent some time discussing proper bagging and containment to prevent seed dispersal.

Sam was very pleased to see the response of our local Pier 1 Imports. Their store manager and staff was very courteous, professional, and understanding of the issue.  Sam was also gratified to see the quick response from the Pier 1 corporate offices in response to the alerts that had gone out less than 24 hours prior.

Quick action

In considering the quick response to this issue, it is clear that the collective efforts of weed managers across the country helped to affect a positive outcome.  In particular the efforts of the Lancaster County Nebraska, Weed Control Authority  in first identifying the problem.  Then the quick response of the North American Invasive Species Management Association (NAISMA) in not only sharing the information, but also in reaching out to Pier 1 Imports corporate offices directly to address the issue.  This in conjunction with the multitude of shares, tweets, and forwards from weed managers and concerned citizens  helped to raise awareness and made all the difference in getting the word out about this issue. So make sure to like the WeedWise Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date!

Lastly, it is important to thank Pier 1 Imports for taking quick action to respond to this situation. It is clear that once they realized there was a problem they acted quickly to inform local store managers and instruct them on policies to prohibit further distribution.

It is great to see a positive and quick outcome to what to many likely seemed like an insurmountable situation.

For More Information

For more information about European common reed, please see the following sources

If you think you may have European common reed on your property, please contact us or report your sighting to the Oregon Invasive Species Hotline.

Now its time to get back to the boots! Happy Pulling!

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WeedWise Program