Summer 2016: Reed Canary Grass
This season I’d like to highlight what the Land Conservancy staff has been doing to control reed canary grass (RCG), featuring the work that has been done at Crowley Sedge Meadow and Windy Knoll Conservation Area.
Crowley Sedge Meadow is a 7-acre remnant sedge meadow off Crowley Road between Harvard and Alden. A little less than 5 acres of that is sedge meadow, most of it high quality although a massive reed canary grass infestation is coming in from the south. The wet prairie section is really great, with at least one rare plant and several other conservative plants like blue-eyed grass, bastard toadflax, prairie dock, culvers root, and high-quality sedges like Carex buxbaumii. RCG control on this site is a priority to protect this awesome diverse remnant and so that we can continue to use it as a seed source for our not-so-awesome sedge meadows. 

Here’s a picture of the general sedge meadow, mostly tussock sedge here (C. stricta).  

I wish I could show you a better picture of the remnant wet prairie, but apparently Golden Alexander is feeling a little proud this year and wanted to show off how much of it could grow in this area. It’s pretty, and diversity is a lot higher than this picture makes it seem.  

When we manage RCG we are as careful as possible to reduce damage to other species. The method we used here doesn’t exactly kill reed canary grass but it does a good job of hurting it and leaves most other species alone. Grasses are affected so we will restore the native grass colonies after we get RCG under control.  

This picture is an overview of one of the main project areas at Crowley. That yellow haze on the right is the area in the previous picture, and as we get closer to the neighbors on the south the RCG gets thicker. The RCG is the yellowish sick looking plant, and the green is mostly native sedges.
Here is a close up of what the ground layer looks like in one of the heavily infested areas. You can see the RCG isn’t dead, just in really bad shape. The tussock sedge is nice and green, just stunted from years of being outcompeted by RCG. Also unaffected is a joe pye weed and a water smartweed. The hope here is that over time the native plants will have more room to grow and will be able to compete and push out RCG after a few years of grass selective treatments.
Here is another overview. You can see all the green sedges that we hope will expand and dominate this area.
Angelica doing just fine in the treatment area. 
This is Carex buxbaumii. It’s not a plant people see every-day, so I thought I’d show you the majesty of this guy. The purple splotches and the ragged brown base at the bottom of the top cluster are a distinguishing feature.  

Reed canary grass isn’t the only problem on this site. We need to control smooth sumac! It spreads by rhizome and now it’s encroaching into the high quality sedge meadow. It is a native species, but there is a lot of sumac across the county and if left unchecked it will shade out the plants we want more of on this site. Sumac will do just fine in any ditch or roadside, so it can go live there instead of in our wet prairie. 
Now onto Windy Knoll Conservation Area!

Windy Knoll is a remnant sedge meadow in a subdivision, off Sweet Bay Drive north of Crystal Lake. A road runs through it, splitting it into a north and south half. The north half has been problematic, so we’re trying to get it back under control this year. This photo is taken standing on Sweet Bay Drive and looking north. What was here was a lot of sandbar willow and lots of RCG. Now it’s sawtooth sunflower and tall goldenrod! It’s a  small victory and we would like more diversity, but Windy Knoll likes to be difficult. We will continue to seed in native plants to increase diversity here over time.  
Here is a close up of the ground layer. All the crispy brown stuff is RCG, and you can see the goldenrods filling in to take its place.
Here is sawtooth sunflower so thick you can’t really even see the sad RCG underneath it all.
Native pasture thistle (Cirsium discolor) and prairie dock is in this area, so hopefully diversity will increase over time.

This is the nicest quality sedge meadow area. You can see the sedges and some joe pye weed. We’ll be using this as a seed source to help fill in the areas that are less diverse.

Reed canary grass is one of the toughest plants we have had to control. The persistent nature of it and its abundant presence county-wide make it a formidable opponent. However, you can see that it is possible to control, it just requires diligent and continuous efforts. 
We look forward to updating you in spring of 2017 as to what these sites look like!

The Land Conservancy of McHenry County | |
815-337-9502 |