Common Reed - Phragmites australis

Family: Poaceae (Grass family)[E-flora]



Habitat / Range
Marshes, ponds, lakeshores and ditches in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; infrequent in S and NE BC; circumpolar, N to SW NT, E to NF and NS and S to IN, LA, TX and MX; Eurasia, Trinidad, C America. [IFBC-E-flora] "The species grows from southern Canada to the central United States, to California, Louisiana, Florida, the West Indies, and from Mexico to Chile and Argentina. Phragmites also grows widely in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia." [Daniel F. Austin] "It grows throughout the world in areas with saturated soils or standing water 2.5 m deep or less. The water can be fresh or moderately saline. Nearly any soil from peat to sand is tolerated." [Saline Agriculture]

Origin Status: Ssp. americanus = Native
Ssp. australis = Exotic [E-flora]

SUBTAXA PRESENT IN BC Phragmites australis ssp. americanus Phragmites australis ssp. australis

USDA Flower Colour: White
USDA Blooming Period: Summer
USDA Fruit/Seed characteristics:

Colour: White
Present from Summer to Fall [USDA-E-flora]

Phragmites australis is a PERENNIAL growing to 3.6 m (11ft) by 3 m (9ft) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 5 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jul to September, and the seeds ripen from Aug to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Wind.[PFAF]
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline and saline soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil and can grow in water. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.[PFAF]


General: Perennial, tufted grass from fibrous roots, semi-rhizomatous; stems stout, erect, 200-300 cm tall. [IFBC-E-flora]
Leaves: Sheaths smooth, loose, twisting in the wind and aligning the blades on one side; blades flat, mostly 20-40 cm long, 10-40 mm wide, usually breaking from the stems by winter; ligules half membrane and half hairs, the innovations mostly membranous, the fringe of hairs late in developing, 1.5-3 mm long. [IFBC-E-flora]
Flowers: Inflorescence a large feathery panicle, 15-35 cm long, often purplish, but later straw-coloured; spikelets generally 3- to 6-flowered, 10-15 mm long; lower glumes 4-6 mm long, the upper ones about 6-9 mm long; lower lemmas hairy, unawned, 9-12 mm long, the upper ones generally smaller but with awns often as long as the bodies, smooth, but exceeded by the silky hairs of the rachillas; paleas scarcely half as long as the lemmas; lodicules scarcely 1 mm long; anthers about 2 mm long. [IFBC-E-flora]

Similar Species: Arundo donax is easily confused with Phragmites australis [Ratsch EPP]

The genus Phragmites is one of the most widely distributed genera in the world (Allred 2010) and is found across most of North America, excluding the Yukon, Alaska, Labrador, and Nunavut (USDA 2010). This is an easily recognized genus of tall (to 3 m), rhizomatous or stoloniferous grasses that form dense stands in saline or freshwater wetlands, including cattail marshes, sloughs, ponds and ditches. The taxonomy of the genus is not yet clear. However, in BC, two subspecies are now recognized. These are:

1) the introduced Phragmites australis subsp. australis (European common reed), an aggressive, invasive subspecies of European origin that is present along the Atlantic coast (where it is invading saltmarshes) and in several locations in British Columbia (Snyder 2009, Martin 2003, Lomer pers. comm. 2011, Brown pers. comm. 2011, Marr pers. comm. 2011). These include Vernon, Osoyoos, Richmond, Burnaby, Galiano Island and Metchosin.

2) the native Phragmites australis subsp. americanus, native to fens, bogs and river shores within its North American range (Catling 2005) and more widespread in BC.
The two subspecies are separated on the basis of glume length, culm/stem colour, leaf colour, and habitat. Identification is based on a collection of characters. See the identification section below for more details.
Populations of the native subspecies in eastern North America are reported as declining, while populations of the introduced subspecies are spreading throughout North America--this is a successful estuarine invader (Myerson 2009). Research on Phragmites shows that "the native type is a low-nutrient specialist, with a more efficient photosynthetic mechanisms and lower N demand, whereas the introduced type requires nearly four times more nitrogen than the native type to be an effective competitor" (Mozdzer and Zieman 2010). This suggests that anthropogenic modification of wetlands has provided the conditions necessary for success of the introduced type in some regions. Hybridization between the two subspecies is not widely reported but has been demonstrated through hand-pollination by Myerson et al. (2009).


Edible Uses

Young shoots sometimes eaten like bamboo shoots; grain edible; partly unfolded leaves eaten as a vegetable; young leaves of var. longivalvis are dried, ground, and made into dumplings with cereal flur; rhizomes sometimes cooked and eaten like potatoes; sugar extracted from rhizome; scorched plant used as coffee substitute. In Russia, they are harvested and processed into starch. Stalks exude a manna-like gum, which is eaten. (BIB; EFS; FAC; HHB; TAN; EB54:155).[MPB-Duke]

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses


Indications (Common Reed) — Cancer (f; JLH); Cancer, breast (f; JLH; PH2); Diabetes (f; HHB; PH2; WOI); Fever (f; EFS; HHB; JFM; PH2; WOI); Fracture (f; DEM; WOI); Leukemia (f; HHB; JLH; PH2); Rheumatism (f; EFS; WOI); Water Retention (f; EFS; HHB; JFM; PH2). [HMH Duke] "For toothache, earache, remedy for hiccoughs, seafood poisoning, parched throat with fever, acute bronchitis with mucus, acute gastritis with vomiting, urinary tract infections, blood or stones in urine, eruptive fevers like measles and chickenpox." [CRNAH]




  • Antiasthmatic [PFAF]
  • antiemetic [PFAF][CRNAH]
  • antipyretic [PFAF][CRNAH]
  • antitussive [PFAF]
  • depurative [PFAF]
  • diuretic [PFAF]
  • febrifuge [PFAF]
  • lithontripic [PFAF]
  • sedative [PFAF]
  • sialogogue [PFAF]
  • stomachic [PFAF][CRNAH]


  • Antidote [PFAF]
  • antiemetic [PFAF]
  • antipyretic [PFAF]
  • refrigerant [PFAF]

Unspecified Part

  • Antiemetic (f; WOI); [HMH Duke]
  • Diaphoretic (f; EFS; HHB; JFM; PH2; WOI); [HMH Duke]
  • Diuretic (f; EFS; HHB; JFM; PH2); [HMH Duke]
  • Emetic (f; DEM); [HMH Duke]
Expectorant (f; DEM); [HMH Duke] Litholytic (f; JFM). [HMH Duke]


Secaclavine "("Alkaloid X"),m.p. 210" (dec.),[a]: -167" (chloroform), occurs together with festuclavine, agroclavine, and elymoclavine, in the ergots of Japanese Agropyrum, Elymus, Phragmites, and Phalaris species (797, 809). It can also be isolated from the ergot of Spanish rye and from the culture of these ergot fungi. Its UV-spectrum is typical of indole derivatives, and it is presumed to be an isomer of dihydroelymoclavine (797)." [AlkChem&PhysioV.7]

The rootstock contains N,N-DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, bufotenine, and gramine (Wassel et al. 1985). [Ratsch EPP] Major root constituents are glycosides, protein, asparagin.49 [CRNAH]

Unspecified Part: "Glycosides, protein, asparagin, ferulic acid, colxol, tricin, asparamide, coniferaldehyde, syringaldehyde, 4-hydroxyinnamic acid, vanillic acid, 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde, 2,5-dimethoxypara-quinone, polysaccharide, serotonin, tricin.302" [CRNAH]

Psychopharmacology of DMT in Phragmites

"Reports about the psychoactive effects of Phragmites australis are based almost exclusively on experiences with ayahuasca analogs that are composed of the root extract, lemon juice, and Peganum harmala seeds. Unpleasant side effects (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) are usually mentioned (Eros 1995)." [Ratsch EPP]



Biomass: The common reed can provide a large quantity of biomass and this is used in a wide variety of ways as listed below. Annual yields of 40 - 63 tonnes per hectare have been reported[269]. The plant is also converted into alcohol (for use as a fuel), is burnt as a fuel and is made into fertilizer[238].[PFAF]
Soil Stabilizer: The plant has a very vigorous and running rootstock, it is useful for binding the soil along the sides of streams etc[115]. It is planted for flood control since it stablizes the banks and gradually builds up soil depth, thus raising the level of the bank.[PFAF]
Manure: Freshly cut shoots are a good green manure[74] (Does this man as a soil mulch?[K]). The inflorescences are used as brooms[74]. [PFAF] "The Iroquois mixed Phragmites with bottle-brush grass (Elymus hystrix) to make “corn medicine,” a mixture in which they soaked corn kernels before planting them." [Daniel F. Austin]

Cultivation details
A very easily grown plant that thrives in deep moisture retentive soils such as marshes and swamps, whilst it also grows well along the sides of streams, lakes and ponds, in shallow water, ditches and wet wastelands[162, 200, 269]. Plants are tolerant of moderately saline water[169, 269]. The plant is reported to tolerate an annual precipitation in the range of 31 to 241cm, an annual temperature in the range of 6.6 to 26.6°C and a pH of 4.8 to 8.2[269]. Plants are hardy to about -20°c[200]. This species is very fast growing with a very vigorous and invasive running rootstock that can be 10 metres or more long, it can form very large stands in wetlands[200, 238, 260]. Difficult to eradicate once established, it is unsuitable for planting into small spaces[200, 238, 269]. The flowering heads are often used in dried flower arrangements[238]. There are some named forms, selected for their ornamental value[238]. [PFAF] "The reed is the largest grass in central Europe, where it is often encountered along the shores of lakes (in the water) in so-called reed fields. The grass can grow on land, but only where the water table is close to the surface and does not subside for any length of time, e.g., in sedge meadows and fens (Christiansen and Hancke 1993, 89*). The common reed is now found throughout the world." [Ratsch EPP] "Little data exist for yields from managed stands. In the harvest of natural stands, however, productivity is consistently estimated to be about 10 dry tons per hectare. There is current use and broader interest in the manufacture of paper and other cellulose derivatives from this plant." [Saline Agriculture] "Typha, Arundo, and Phragmites are usually propagated vegetatively, but also techniques for micropropagation from callus have been described (40). The latter method is advantageous as it allows for the rapid complementation of the detoxification pathway." [Willey PMR]

"Group II Hydro-halophytes: Species within this group that has C3 photosynthesis occur in wet to standing water, varying from freshwater to brackish water marshes, ditches, around seeps and springs. They can tolerate up to 10,000 ppm of salts and more. The main species include Phragmites australis; P. communis;... Arundo spp.; Typha spp." [Ozturk PPT]

Allelochemicals: "The allelochemicals of Phragmites communis reduced the activities of superoxide dismutase (SOD) and peroxidase (POD), as also declined the scavenging ability of reactive oxygen species to disorganize the cell redox state causing cell death (Li and Hu 2005). " [Cheema Allelopathy] "... ethyl 2-methylacetoacetate (EMA) from the common reed, Phragmites australis (Li and Hu, 2005), amongst others." [Ross PIP] "Typha, similar to Phragmites, colonizes no running water. Both of them are known as allelopathically active against algae; however, they become effective when plants cover more than 25% of the water surface." [SoilBio-30]

Genetic Variability: "In some cases, only a nonnative genetic strain of a species shows invasive tendencies while native populations are not a problem. An example is giant reed grass (Phragmites communis). For years it was not known if it was a native or introduced. We now know there are both strains with important differences, and these genotypes have hybridized allowing the genes causing invasiveness to enter our native population." [Apfelbaum TREHL] "Waisel (1972) found that seeds collected from halophytic populations of Limonium pruinosum, Alhagi greacorum, Prosopis farcta (syn. Lagonychium farctum), and Phragmites australis (syn. P. communis) germinate better under saline conditions than do seeds from glycophytic ecotypes of the same species. He stated that generalisation about the matter is still speculative as different modes of adaptation can be found among various ecotypes within one species." [Batanouny PDME]

Accumulator: of Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, S, V, Zn, Cd. [Mgobozi][Hasegawa ERTMCS] "Kunito et al. (2001) compared the characteristics of bacterial communities in the rhizosphere of Phragmites with those of nonrhizosphere soil in a highly Cu-contaminated area near a copper mine in Japan. Phragmites is an important plant for phytoremediation applications, but does not hyperaccumulate heavy metals. Higher bacterial numbers were detected in the rhizosphere, which may be due to the lower Cu concentrations or to the availability of root exudates." [SoilBio-13]

[Gupta HMSP]

Effects of Toxins on Phragmites:

Wastewater Filtration:

"Artificial wetlands require specific plants tolerant to high water level variability from 0 cm to 50 cm, due to hydrological dependence. A range of plants have shown this property, but the common reed (Phragmites australis) and the reedmace (Typha latifolia) are particularly effective. They have a large biomass both above (leaves) and below (underground rhizome system) the surface of the soil or substrate. The subsurface plant tissues grow horizontally and vertically and create an extensive matrix which binds the soil particles and creates a large surface area for the uptake of nutrients and ions. Hollow vessels in the plant tissue enable air to move from the leaves to the roots and to the surrounding soil. Aerobic microorganisms flourish in a thin zone (rhizosphere) around the roots and anaerobic microorganisms are present in the underlying soil. Natural filtration in the substrate also assists in the removal of many pollutants and pathogenic microorganisms." [Lichtfouse CCI]

"Grey water from single households can be purified biologically in special soil filters planted with Phragmites australis, Typha angustifolia or other plants that develop an aerenchym. After removal of most of the pollutants by biofiltration, the purified wastewater seeps into the underground. The natural self-purification capacity of the top soil layers for wastewater components is extended into deeper layers of the soil by improving the oxygen supply via the aerenchym of planted vegetation." [Singleton BB] "Molinia caerulea, Carex flacca, Sanguisorba officinalis, Valeriana officinalis, Phragmites australis – all are almost exclusively found in swamp-like habitats. Those plants are mostly mycorrhizal and often resistant to heavy metals due to increased content of Si in their tissues (Kabata-Pendias and Pendias 2001). They can easily survive periodical changes of water level." [Lichtfouse AFS]

"In Estonia the reason for diminishment of coastal meadows and the expansion of the stands of the common reed (Phragmites australis) is the discontinuation of traditional use of grasslands, namely grazing and cutting. Phragmites australis usually produces dense and monocultural stands at the waterline, where species richness is low and it can survive in ungrazed shore meadows, but it suffers from grazing (Tyler, 1969)." [Lillak IEGFB]

Aphid Host Plant


Fungal Assosciation

Bacterial Assosciation

"Seed - surface sow in spring in a light position. Keep the soil moist by emmersing the pot in 3cm of water. Germination usually takes place quite quickly. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant them out in the summer. Division in spring. Very simple, any part of the root that has a growth bud will grow into a new plant. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer." [PFAF] It rarely produces seed, but spreads by its long horizontal rootstocks.[EWP] "The plant is propagated primarily vegetatively. The grass can be easily grown from a piece of the root (rhizome). Reeds prefer marshy soil and require a great deal of nutrient-rich water. They are well suited for use as ornamentals in garden ponds. However, they do not tolerate acidic water (Christiansen and Hancke 1993, 89*)." [Ratsch EPP] Flowers are produced, but seed production is rare; the plant reproduces by fragmentation of the rhizome.[BiblePlants]


"Phragmites australis is sometimes regarded as the sole species of the genus, though some botanists divide Phragmites australis into three or four species: Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud., Phragmites communis Trin., Arundo phragmites L. (the basionym) and Phragmites altissimus." [Dhir PRAPECU]

Other Phragmites Sp.

Related Journals