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Phragmites australis seed head in winter
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Phragmites
Species: P. australis
Binomial name
Phragmites australis
(Cav.) Trin. ex Steud.

Phragmites australis, the Common Reed (see Reed (plant) for other species also called 'reed'), is a large perennial grass native to wetland sites throughout temperate and tropical regions of the world. It is generally regarded as the sole species of the genus Phragmites, though some botanists divide the genus into three or four species.

It commonly forms extensive stands, up to a square kilometre or more (known as reed beds); where conditions are suitable, it can spread at up to 5 m or more per year by horizontal 'runner' stems, which put down roots at regular intervals. The erect stems grow to 2–6 m tall, with the taller plants growing in areas with hot summers and fertile growing conditions. The leaves are broad for a grass, 20–50 cm long and 2–3 cm broad. The flowers are produced in a dense, dark purple panicle 20–50 cm long.

The Common Reed is a very important plant for wildlife and conservation, particularly in Europe and Asia, where several species of birds are strongly tied to large Phragmites stands, notably:-

  • Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus
  • Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
  • Great Bittern Botaurus stellaris

In North America, the species' status was misunderstood. It was commonly considered to be an exotic species, not native but introduced from Europe; however, there is clear evidence of the existence of Phragmites native in North America long before European colonisation of the continent. It is now known that the North American native forms of Phragmites are markedly less vigorous than European forms; the recent marked increase in Phragmites in North America may be due to a vigorous, but otherwise almost indistinguishable European form of the species, best detectable by genetic analysis. This is causing serious problems for many other North American wetland plants, including the local form of the species.[1]

Recent studies have characterised morphological variation among 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 (up to 0.9 mm vs. over 1.0 mm), shorter glumes (under 3.2 mm vs. over 3.2 mm, although there is some overlap in this character), and culm characteristics. Recently, the North American genotype has been described as a distinct subspecies, Phragmites australis subsp. americanus Saltonstall, Peterson, and Soreng; the Eurasian genotype is referred to as Phragmites australis subsp. australis. Rhizomes of the plant are rich in N,N-DMT alkaloids (Wassel et al. 1985).

Synonyms include Arundo phragmites L. (the basionym), Phragmites altissimus, P. berlandieri, P. communis, P. dioicus, P. maximus, P. vulgaris.


In literature

One reference to reeds in European literature is Frenchman Blaise Pascal's saying that Man is but a 'thinking reed' (roseau pensant). In La Fontaine's famous fable (Le 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.

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)."[2]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Phragmites". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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