common reed (reed)
Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud.

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Common reed is virtually cosmopolitan, making it the single most widely distributed species of grass. It can be found throughout North America, although it is less common in the southeastern states. Common reed is associated with wetland habitats throughout its range. In Iowa, common reed occurs most commonly in the northwestern lake region, but it is scattered throughout the state in swamps and along lake shores and roadside ditches, and it sometimes grows in shallow water. This is one of the easiest species to recognize in the field due to its tall, leafy culms and feathery flowering heads. Once this species is established in a site, it often forms large colonies by means of its vigorous rhizomes and stolons. This feature may make common reed difficult to eradicate but can be advantageous in wetland restoration or reconstruction projects, especially where flood or erosion control is desirable. Common reed flowers in Iowa from late July to October, with the stems often persisting through the winter.

The stems and leaves of this plant have been widely used for thatching and weaving mats. Runkel and Roosa (1999) indicate that the stems were sometimes fashioned into arrow shafts, and that fibers were used for making ropes and nets. Interestingly, the stems were used as a source of sugar for making candy, sweet drinks and a special flour.

Etymology: Phragmites from the Greek phragma = fence, describing its fence-like growth; australis from the Latin for of or from the south.


Plants perennial, rhizomatous, often forming dense stands. Culms 2-4 m tall, 0.5-1.2 cm thick, erect. Leaves with the sheaths smooth; ligules about 1mm long, fringed; blades 15-44 cm long, 1.3-3.5 cm wide, lanceolate. Flowering heads 18-42 cm long, grayish-white and feathery at maturity due to copious hairs on the spikelet joints. Spikelets 10-17 mm long, with 4-8 florets, breaking off above the glumes and between the florets. Lower glumes 3.5-6.5 mm long; upper glumes 5-8 mm long; lemmas (5) 8-13 mm long, smooth, linear, somewhat inrolled, the apex long, tapering. Chromosome number 2n = 36, 42, 44, 46, 48, 49-52, 54, 72, 84, 96.


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