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Arundo donax - L.                
Common Name Giant Reed
Family Poaceae or Gramineae
Synonyms A. maxima.
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Ditches, riversides and marshland[7, 200].
Range S. Europe
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Wet Soil Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Arundo donax is a PERENNIAL growing to 6 m (19ft) by 4 m (13ft).
It is hardy to zone 6. It is in flower in September, and the seeds ripen in October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Wind.

USDA hardiness zone : Coming soon

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist or wet soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

Arundo donax Giant Reed

Arundo donax Giant Reed
Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Hedge; Bog Garden;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Leaves;  Root.
Edible Uses:

Rhizome - raw or cooked[84]. The rhizome can be dried and ground into a powder to make bread, usually in conjunction with cereal flours[7, K]. It can also be roasted or boiled[84]. Leaves - cooked as a potherb[84]. They are very bitter[177]. The young shoots are used[177].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Diaphoretic;  Diuretic;  Emollient;  Galactofuge;  Hypotensive.

The root is diaphoretic, diuretic, emollient and galactofuge[7]. An infusion is said to stimulate menstrual discharge and diminish milk flow[240, 272]. A paste of the root is applied to the forehead to treat headaches[272]. Isolated alkaloids have been experimentally shown to raise the blood pressure and contract the intestine and uterus[240]. The rhizome or rootstock is used in the treatment of dropsy. Boiled in wine with honey, the root or rhizome has been used for treating cancer[269]. The plant contains the alkaloid gramine. This is said to be a vasopressor, raising the blood pressure in dogs after small doses, causing a fall in larger doses[269]. The stems have been used as splints for broken limbs[257].
Other Uses
Basketry;  Biomass;  Broom;  Dye;  Hedge;  Hedge;  Musical;  Paper;  Pipes;  Plant support;  Shelterbelt;  Soil stabilization;  Thatching;  Weaving.

Brooms are made from the terminal panicles[7]. Plants are grown alongside irrigation canals to check soil erosion[169]. The plant can be grown as a windbreak screen[1, 169]. If cut down, the culms branch and in this form the plants can be used as a hedge[236]. The leaves can be woven into mats etc, whilst the split and flattened stems are used to make screens, walls of houses etc[46, 50, 61, 84]. A yellow dye is obtained from the pollen[257]. The stems of the plant have a multitude of applications. They are used as plant supports for vines and other climbing plants[7, 169, 269] and to make clarinets, bag-pipes etc[46, 61, 103]. They are also used as pipe stems[84], for roofing[46], to make screens, walking sticks and in basketry[100, 195]. They are used to make the reeds of clarinets and organ pipes[236]. The stems can be harvested as desired at any time of the year[269]. The fibre from the stems can be used to make a good quality paper[269]. This plant is currently (1995) under investigation at Rosewarne in Cornwall as a potential commercial paper crop for small-scale industries in SW. England[K]. Because of rather high yields from natural stands, the plant has been suggested as a source of biomass for energy production[7, 269]. Dry cane yields of ca 10, 15, and 20 tonnes per hectare were reported respectively from infertile, partly fertile and fertile soils[269]. According to the phytomass files annual productivity ranges from 10 to 59 tonnes per hectare, the latter figure from Westlake's (1963) estimate of 57 - 59 tonnes[269]. In addendum, Westlake cites evidence that Arundo donax can produce 40–75 MT/ha/yr. in warm temperate and tropical regions. Early vegetative growth has ME (metabolizable energy) of 2.22 megacalories/kg DM, while hay has an ME of only 1.37 (Gohl, 1981). Such annual productivity, if sustainable, makes this a notable energy candidate, especially when one considers the energy as a by-product, with leaf protein and potential pharmaceutical as primary products[269]. A particular type of cellulose is obtained from the plant[7]. In Italy, the plant is used in the manufacture of rayon[269].
Cultivation details                                         
Prefers a moist fertile soil in a sunny sheltered position, preferably by water[1, 134, 200]. Tolerates a pH in the range 5.5 to 8.3. Plants can be grown as a specimen in lawns etc, succeeding in quite coarse grass[233]. Plants are succeeding in a site that is very exposed to maritime winds at Rosewarne in Cornwall[K]. Adapted to tropical, subtropical and warm temperate climates of the World, Giant reed is often found on sand dunes near seashores. It tolerates some salt. It grows best along river banks and in other wet places, and is best developed in poor sandy soil and in sunny situations. Said to tolerate all types of soils, from heavy clays to loose sands and gravelly soils. Ranging from Cool Temperate Wet through Tropical Dry to Wet Forest Life Zones, giant reed is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 30 to 400cm, an average annual temperature range of 9 to 28.5°C and a pH in the range of 5.0 to 8.7[269]. One report says that this plant is only hardy in the milder areas of Britain[1] whilst another report says that it is hardy to between -5 and -10°c[200]. This contradicts with the hardiness zone rating of 6 which would make the plant hardy in most areas of Britain[200]. Plants thrive outdoors at Oxford Botanical Gardens[233] as well as at Hilliers Arboretum in Hampshire and the RHS Gardens in Surrey[K]. Extensively cultivated in S. Europe for basket making etc[50]. Plants rarely if ever flower in British gardens233]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[233].
Seed - surface sow in a greenhouse in February to April. Stand the pots in about 3cm of water to keep the soil moist until the seed germinates. It usually germinates in 1 - 3 months at 15°c[134]. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Once they are 20cm or more tall, plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. Division in spring[1]. Whilst large divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions, we have found that it is best to pot the divisions up and keep them in light shade in a greenhouse until they are rooting away well. Stem cuttings, placed in water, root easily[1].
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[50]? Flora Europaea
An immense work in 6 volumes (including the index). The standard reference flora for europe, it is very terse though and with very little extra information. Not for the casual reader.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[84]Coyle. J. and Roberts. N. C. A Field Guide to the Common and Interesting Plants of Baja California.
A very readable pocket flora with good illustrations, it gives quite a few plant uses.
[100]Polunin. O. Flowers of Europe - A Field Guide.
An excellent and well illustrated pocket guide for those with very large pockets. Also gives some details on plant uses.
[103]Haywood. V. H. Flowering Plants of the World.
Very readable and well illustrated, it lists plants by families giving the basic diagnostic features and some details of plant uses.
[134]Rice. G. (Editor) Growing from Seed. Volume 2.
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation. An interesting article on Ensete ventricosum.
[169]Buchanan. R. A Weavers Garden.
Covers all aspects of growing your own clothes, from fibre plants to dyes.
[177]Kunkel. G. Plants for Human Consumption.
An excellent book for the dedicated. A comprehensive listing of latin names with a brief list of edible parts.
[195]Farrelly. D. The Book of Bamboo
Very readable, giving lots of information on the uses of bamboos, both temperate and tropical.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[233]Thomas. G. S. Perennial Garden Plants
A concise guide to a wide range of perennials. Lots of cultivation guides, very little on plant uses.
[236]Hitchcock. A. S. Manual of the Grasses of the United States
A nice and comprehensive flora, though a bit dated. Good line drawings of each plant, plus a brief idea of the habitat and a few notes on plant uses. Not for the casual reader.
[240]Chopra. R. N., Nayar. S. L. and Chopra. I. C. Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants (Including the Supplement).
Very terse details of medicinal uses of plants with a wide range of references and details of research into the plants chemistry. Not for the casual reader.
[257]Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany
Very comprehensive but terse guide to the native uses of plants. Excellent bibliography, fully referenced to each plant, giving a pathway to further information. Not for the casual reader.
[269]Duke. J. Handbook of Energy Crops
Published only on the Internet, excellent information on a wide range of plants.
[272]Manandhar. N. P. Plants and People of Nepal
Excellent book, covering over 1,500 species of useful plants from Nepal together with information on the geography and peoples of Nepal. Good descriptions of the plants with terse notes on their uses.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Fri Mar 19 08:03:01 2004

Link: Arundo donax: Source of Musical Reeds and Industrial Cellulose Mostly about the importance of the plant for woodwind reed instruments.

Elizabeth H.
R. Brake Tue Sep 7 01:42:44 2004
Arundo donax is an incredibly invasive non native plant that is threatening watersheds throughout the western and southern United States. It should never, ever be planted as a garden plant, as it escapes easily into ditches, streams, and other wet areas. If left alone, Arundo will completely take over, ending in single species communities that represent huge fire hazards. This site should be issuing a warning against it, not claiming it as a potential garden participant.
Elizabeth H.
Sat May 7 19:44:29 2005
Use the plant, then it will be maintained.
Elizabeth H.
Mon Sep 25 2006
hardier than zone 6 - I live in zone 11 and there it is.
Elizabeth H.
Douglas Laing Wed Aug 22 2007
I am very interested in the possible use of Arundo donax as a fiber source in prefabricated building material such as plaques or panels .If anyone has had experience with this species they could contact me at douglaslaing@yahoo.co.uk
Elizabeth H.
rose ramirez Tue Jul 29 2008
I also believe that your site needs to put in an extreme caution. arunda has caused not only severe damage to our waterways, our tax dollars are going to fight it by cutting it down and spraying with chemicals in our waterways. only to see that it is the only plant to return in abundance. currently many products are showing up as made from a renewable resource, made with bamboo. i think this is same plant. often the product will be from china and say that it is panda safe. so we are buying products made from this plant that are shipped to us from its native land, china, possibly with mal effects to the local environment, while we have thousands of acres here infecting our waterways and no one will find a way to harvest it here until it is not a hazard and make the same products here. crazy. do not plant, don't ever plant. it does not provide any habitat for our birds or insects or anything else native and destroys the habitat that the same needs.
Elizabeth H.
Bjarne Mahler Schou Tue Jan 5 2010
Hi I'm looking for a european source for A. donax root cuttings (100) for science purposes. I can be contacted by bms@cebi.dk Sincerely yours Bjarne Mahler Schou
Patty P.
Nov 28 2011 12:00AM
http://www.geocities.ws/nowhitelist/faq.pdf Q: But aren't alien invasive species a real threat? What about Eucalyptus, Star Thistle, Scotch Broom and wild boars? Don't they destroy native ecosystems? A: No! This is herbicide industry propaganda. These species are symptoms of man's destructive abuse of the land, not the cause, expanding into heavily disturbed, overgrazed, polluted areas, often helping heal the land, and filling niches in the ecosystem opened by man's destruction of natives. Star thistle & Scotch Broom are heavily used by native herbivores and pollinators including wild native bees & butterflies, mice, deer, etc. They protect and rebuild soils damaged by decades of overgrazing. Eucalyptus is the preferred habitat for native monarch butterfly overwintering congregations, and wild boar rooting increases plant diversity and fulfills the soil-stirring function formerly performed by grizzlies before they were hunted to extinction in California. In every case, without exception, "invasive" species are the direct result of human disturbance of the landscape, or a secondary ripple effect from other disturbance. They are a symptom of our abuses of the land, not the cause. Invasive alien hysteria is based on faulty, antiquated ecology - the idea of stable, coevolved ecosystems is now entirely discredited by modern ecosystem studies and paleobiology. http://www.geocities.com/nowhitelist/faq.html "...herbicide manufactures and "life patent" corporations have funded tremendous propaganda in recent years hyping a spurious "invasive species" threat to natural ecosystems in order to sell more herbicides. The USDA, when faced with large budget cuts in the mid 1990s, and needing new justification for its regulatory bureaucracy (protecting the nation from "foreign invaders"), joined in this propaganda effort. Other bureaucracies have joined and the National Invasive Species Council has been created. Park managers nationwide have found "weed extermination" projects a fertile source of funding (The Natural Areas Association for park and preserve managers had a Monsanto employee on its board of directors for some time), and academic biologists likewise have found that promoting the "invasive species threat" useful in their search for grant funding. Unfortunately, this industry-backed media sensationalism has been effective, and many otherwise fine environmental organizations have been misled into support of this "nature cleansing". Monsanto has also been instrumental in the formation of the Exotic Pest Plant Councils - pseudo-environmental front-groups promoting weed hysteria. A Monsanto employee was instrumental in the founding of The California Exotic Pest Plant Council, and was on its board of directors for years. CalEPPC has received major funding from them and other herbicide manufacturers..." Important video on Invasion Biology: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AT4Zczx_bik David Theodoropoules speaks about Invasion Biology at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene OR, March 5th 2011. David I. Theodoropoulos directs the Las Sombras Biological Preserve in La Honda, CA and is the author of "Invasion Biology: Critique of a Pseudoscience, the first comprehensive refutation of invasion biology." His talk was titled "Invasion Biology -- Science or Pseudoscience?, a brief overview of invasion biology's scientific failings, and current scientific perspectives on invasive species."
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