It has a biblical-sounding name, and some people even think it looks nice, but the Union County Engineer and Soil & Water Conservation District officials call it what it is -- a weed.

It has a biblical-sounding name, and some people even think it looks nice, but the Union County Engineer and Soil & Water Conservation District officials call it what it is -- a weed.

Phragmites australis, also known as the common reed, was recently spotted in Union County off Taylor Road.

"I don't know how it got there, I don't know when it got there," said John Rockenbaugh, Wildlife Specialist with the Union County SWCD.

The plant is considered a noxious weed in several states.

"It's like a cattail on steroids," said Robert Scheiderer, Ditch Maintenance Supervisor for the Union County SWCD. "The phragmites is a very serious threat."

"If it's the right kind of weed, it can spread and become a problem," said County Engineer Jeff Stauch.

One problem with phragmites is that a stand of it can grow tall in a ditch or along the side of a road and obscure drivers' views.

"Where we get involved is we mow our roadsides every summer, four rounds or so, for safety and maintenance reasons," Stauch said.

The County Engineer's Roads and Bridges staff also will use herbicides such as Rodeo or Roundup on phragmites.

"A number of years ago, we had concerns about Johnson grass, and we did some spraying for that," Stauch said.

However, the stand of phragmites in Union County happened to be on private property, which is out of the Engineer's jurisdiction.

"(Scheiderer) talked to the property owner, who said he'd take care of it," Stauch said.

Rockenbaugh said phragmites can also reduce the flow rates of drainage ditches - "it'll actually slow the water down."

"You get up around Lake Erie and the drainage ditches and the canals, sometimes it's as far as you can see," said Rockenbaugh. "It becomes very aggressive, and it's the only thing that grows."

In addition, the seeds can travel downstream.

"They could be growing anywhere and everywhere, because they are prolific seeders," Rockenbaugh said. "It ends up growing where other things won't."

According to the United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, phragmites is a perennial grass that is present in every state except Alaska. It can grow rapidly in wetlands, reaching a height of 6 to 12 feet tall. It blooms in the summer, with purple seed heads. Phragmites can be eaten by cattle and horses before reaching maturity, and it has been used by Native Americans.

"I don't know if I've ever seen it," Stauch said. "I'm kind of curious what it looks like."

"There's a native population and there's a non-native population," said Rockenbaugh. "The non-natives are the ones that really take off. There is a population (also on private property) off of Rt. 739 in northern Union County (in a field's wet spot) that hasn't traveled where it's at. It's probably a hundred-foot section. It's been there (for 30 years) and it doesn't misbehave (hasn't spread), so I suspect it's a native population."