Phragmites australis, known as common reed, is a broadly distributed wetland grass growing nearly 20 ft (6 m) tall.
Description & apperancePhragmites 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 also spread at 5 m (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 m (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 cm (7.9–19.7 in) and 2–3 cm (0.79–1.18 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. These eventually help disperse the minute seeds.
HabitatIt is a helophyte (aquatic plant), especially common in alkaline habitats, and it also tolerates brackish water, 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. A study demonstrated that Phragmites australis has similar greenhouse gas emissions to native Spartina alterniflora. However, other studies have demonstrated that it is associated with larger methane emissions and greater carbon dioxide uptake than native New England salt marsh vegetation that occurs at higher marsh elevations.
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.