Phragmites australis seed head in winter
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Subfamily: Arundinoideae
Tribe: Arundineae[1]
Genus: Phragmites
Species: P. australis
Binomial name
Phragmites australis
(Cav.) Trin. ex Steud.

Phragmites, the Common reed, is a large perennial grass found in wetlands throughout temperate and tropical regions of the world. Phragmites australis is sometimes regarded as the sole species of the genus Phragmites, though some botanists divide Phragmites australis into three or four species. In particular the South Asian Khagra Reed – Phragmites karka – is often treated as a distinct species.[2]



Three Phragmites australis seedlings: A.) very young, B.) juvenile, C.) the oldest (3-4 months). Roman numerals denote different shoot generations.
Sc = scutellum.
From (Warming 1884.

[clarification needed])

The generally accepted botanical name of Common reed is Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud.. However, it is still often known as Phragmites communis Trin.; other synonyms include Arundo phragmites L. (the basionym), Phragmites altissimus, P. berlandieri, P. dioicus, P. maximus, P. vulgaris[clarification needed].


Recent studies have characterised morphological distinctions between the introduced and native stands of Phragmites in North America. The Eurasian genotype can be distinguished from the North American genotype by its shorter ligules of up to 0.9 millimetres (0.04 in) as opposed to over 1.0 millimetre (0.04 in), shorter glumes of under 3.2 millimetres (0.13 in) against over 3.2 millimetres (0.13 in) (although there is some overlap in this character), and in culm characteristics.

  • Phragmites australis subsp. americanus - Recently, the North American genotype has been described as a distinct subspecies, subsp. americanus,[3] and
  • Phragmites australis subsp. australis - the Eurasian variety is referred to as subsp. australis.[4]

Native and introduced species

In North America, the status of Phragmites australis was a source of confusion and debate. It was commonly considered an exotic species and often invasive species, introduced from Europe. However, there is evidence of the existence of Phragmites as a native plant in North America long before European colonization of the continent[citation needed]. It is now known that the North American native forms of P. a. subsp. americanus are markedly less vigorous than European forms. The recent marked expansion of Phragmites in North America may be due to the more vigorous, but similar-looking European subsp. australis.[4]

Phragmites australis subsp. australis is causing serious problems for many other North American hydrophyte wetland plants, including the native Phragmites australis subsp. americanus. Gallic acid released by Phragmites is degraded by ultraviolet light to produce mesoxalic acid, effectively hitting susceptible plants and seedlings with two harmful toxins.[5][6] Phragmites are so difficult to control that one of the most effective methods of eradicating the plant is to burn it over 2-3 seasons. The roots grow so deep and strong that one burn is not enough.[7]

Growth and habitat

Phragmites australis, Common reed, commonly forms extensive stands (known as reed beds), which may be as much as 1 square kilometre (0.39 sq mi) or more in extent. Where conditions are suitable it can spread at 5 metres (16 ft) or more per year by horizontal runners, which put down roots at regular intervals. It can grow in damp ground, in standing water up to 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) or so deep, or even as a floating mat. The erect stems grow to 2–6 metres (6 ft 7 in–19 ft 8 in) tall, with the tallest plants growing in areas with hot summers and fertile growing conditions.

The leaves are long for a grass, 20–50 centimetres (7.9–20 in) and 2–3 centimetres (0.79–1.2 in) broad. The flowers are produced in late summer in a dense, dark purple panicle, about 20–50 cm long. Later the numerous long, narrow, sharp pointed spikelets appear greyer due to the growth of long, silky hairs.

It is a halophyte, especially common in alkaline habitats, and it also tolerates brackish water,[5] and so is often found at the upper edges of estuaries and on other wetlands (such as grazing marsh) which are occasionally inundated by the sea.

Common reed is suppressed where it is grazed regularly by livestock. Under these conditions it either grows as small shoots within the grassland sward, or it disappears altogether.

In Europe, common reed is rarely invasive, except in damp grasslands where traditional grazing has been abandoned.

A previously sandy beach 'invaded' by Phragmites australis reeds.

Wildlife in reed beds

Common reed is very important (together with other reed-like plants) for wildlife and conservation, particularly in Europe and Asia, where several species of birds are strongly tied to large Phragmites stands. These include:

  • Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus)
  • Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
  • Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)


Phytoremediation water treatment

Phragmites australis is one of the main wetland plant species used for phytoremediation water treatment.

Waste water from lavatories and greywater from kitchens is routed to an underground septic tank-like compartment where the solid waste is allowed to settle out. The water then trickles through a constructed wetland or artificial reed bed, where bioremediation bacterial action on the surface of roots and leaf litter removes some of the nutrients in biotransformation. The water is then suitable for irrigation, groundwater recharge, or release to natural watercourses.


Reed is used in many areas for thatching roofs. In the British Isles, common reed used for this purpose is known as Norfolk reed or water reed. However "wheat reed" and "Devon reed", also used for thatching, are not in fact reed, but long-stemmed wheat straw.

Other uses

Some other uses for Phragmites australis and other reeds in various cultures include baskets, mats, pen tips, and a rough form of paper.[8] Additionally, the reeds are used as nesting tubes by individuals keeping solitary bees such as Mason Bees.

In the Philippines, Phragmites is known by the local name "tambo". Reed stands flower in December, and the blooms are harvested and bundled into brooms called "walis". Hence the common name of household brooms is "walis tambo".

In Australian Aboriginal cultures, reeds were used to make weapons like spears for hunting game.[9]


Numerous parts of Phragmites can be prepared for consumption. For example, the young stems "while still green and fleshy, can be dried and pounded into a fine powder, which when moistened is roasted [sic] like marshmallows." Also, the wheat-like seeds on the apex of the stems "can be ground into flour or made into gruel." Rootstocks are used similarly.[10]

Legend and literature

When Midas had his ears transformed into donkey's ears, he concealed the fact and his barber was sworn to secrecy. However the barber could not contain himself and rather than confiding in another human, he spoke the secret into a hole in the ground. The reeds that grew in that place then repeated the secret in whispers.

Moses was "drawn out of the water where his mother had placed him in a reed basket to save him from the death that had been decreed by the Pharaoh against the firstborn of all of the children of Israel in Egypt" (Exodus 2:10).[11] However, the plant concerned may have been another reed-like plant, such as papyrus, which is still used for making boats.

One reference to reeds in European literature is Frenchman Blaise Pascal's saying that Man is but a 'thinking reed' — roseau pensant. In Jean de La Fontaine's famous fable The Oak and the ReedLe chêne et le roseau, the reed tells the proud oak: "I bend, and break not" —"Je plie, et ne romps pas", "before the tree's fall."

See also


  1. ^ "Phragmites australis". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2007-05-09. Retrieved 2009-02-10. 
  2. ^ "Phragmites". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2007-05-09. Retrieved 2009-02-10. 
  3. ^ Saltonstall, Peterson, and Soreng
  4. ^ a b Catling, P.M.; Mitrow, G.l. (2011). "Major invasive alien plants of natural habitats in Canada. 1. European Common Reed (often just called Phragmites), Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud. subsp. australis". CBA Bulletin 44 (2): 52–61. 
  5. ^ a b issg Database: Ecology of Phragmites australis
  6. ^ Changing Climate May Make 'Super Weed' Even More Powerful Newswise, Retrieved on June 4, 2009.
  7. ^ Stop Invasive Species - Phragmites
  8. ^ Phragmite
  9. ^ Unaipon, D. (2001) Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines, p. 138, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne. ISBN 0 522 85246 7.
  10. ^ Peterson, Lee, "A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America",page 228, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York City,accessed the sixth of September, 2010. ISBN 0 395 20445 3
  11. ^

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Phragmites — Phragmites …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Phragmites — (P. Trin,), Pflanzengattung aus der Familie der Gramineae Arundinaceae, 3. Kl 2. Ordn. L.; Balg zweiklappig, drei bis siebenblüthig, die untere Blüthe männlich, nackt, die folgenden zwitterig, mit langen Haaren umgeben; Bälglein zweifpelzig,… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Phragmĭtes — Trin. (Schilfrohr), Gattung der Gramineen, hohe, rohrartige Gräser mit großer Rispe und lockern, vielblütigen Ährchen, in denen die untersten Blüten meist männlich, die andern zwitterig sind. Von den drei Arten (eine im tropischen Asien, eine in… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Phragmites — Phragmītes Trin., Pflanzengattg. der Gramineen, hohe rohrartige Gräser mit großer Rispe. P. commūnis Trin. (gemeines Schilf –, Teichrohr, Schilf, Ried), an und in stehenden Gewässern; die Halme dienen zum Berohren der Wände, zu Geflechten, zu… …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Phragmites —   [griechisch], wissenschaftlicher Name der Süßgrasgattung Schilfrohr.   …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Phragmites —   Phragmites …   Wikipedia Español

  • Phragmites — Phragmites …   Wikipédia en Français

  • phragmites — paprastoji nendrė statusas T sritis vardynas apibrėžtis Miglinių šeimos vaistinis augalas (Phragmites australis), paplitęs visame pasaulyje. atitikmenys: lot. Phragmites australis angl. common grass; common reed; ditch reed; giant reed;… …   Lithuanian dictionary (lietuvių žodynas)

  • phragmites — noun Etymology: New Latin, from Greek phragmitēs growing in hedges, from phragma fence, hedge, from phrassein to enclose Date: 1877 any of a genus (Phragmites) of widely distributed reeds with tall stems and large showy panicles resembling plumes …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • phragmites — /frag muy teez/, n. any of several tall grasses of the genus Phragmites, having plumed heads, growing in marshy areas, esp. the common reed P. australis (or P. communis). [ < NL (1820) < Gk phragmítes growing in hedges, equiv. to phrágm(a) fence …   Universalium

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