“Fountain Grass!”

Ben yells the name of the plant species we are hunting, and swiftly darts to the side of the river in his blue ducky.  The rest of the crew, not far behind, scrambles to find a spot along the tiny bank, grasping onto willows overhanging the river. After some reorganizing, the cluster of boats finds a safe landing, and everyone hops out to lend a hand. By the time the whole crew is ready to pull some fountain grass, we have cleared the site of the invasive grass—everyone puts their boating gear back on, and we take off downstream.

This scene was the most memorable for me on the Lower Verde trip this past December, as it happened often during our 8 days floating the Wild and Scenic stretch of the river. I found it entertaining that eight volunteers, some of which had relatively little river experience, were thrown into some funny looking boats and goofy clothes in the name of invasive species treatment. While “Fountain Grass Removal” sounds like serious work, in reality, it mostly meant playing bumper boats in between treatment sites, debating which cliffs we could scale in order to reach patches of the grass, and racing each other to the best campsite every night.

All this being said, we were able to treat more acreage of Fountain Grass than ever before. Just because we were having a lot of fun doesn’t mean we were goofing off—we spent the majority of our eight days on the river preparing herbicide, hiking to treatment sites, digging up and spraying patches of Fountain Grass, and collecting seed heads in order to prevent the species from further infesting the banks of the Verde.

Fountain Grass is an invasive species that is moving up the Verde River corridor from Phoenix, where homeowners and landscapers are still actively planting it on their property due to its aesthetic value. There is now more Fountain Grass along the Lower Verde than in years prior, but the city of Phoenix continues to allow its residents to purchase the seeds and unknowingly contribute to the problem. The grass tends to grow in a monoculture—it can quickly take over an area of the riverbank, leaving no room or resources for native riparian species to grow. The best way to help is by spreading the word how Fountain Grass negatively affects our river ecosystem. Start a conversation about choosing to landscape your home with native species today!

by Erin Burke

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