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Phragmites australis - (Cav.)Trin. ex Steud.                
Common Name Common Reed, American common reed, Hybrid common reed, European common reed, Subtropical common re
Family Poaceae or Gramineae
USDA hardiness 4-8
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Shallow water and wet soil, avoiding extremely poor soils and very acid habitats[17].
Range Cosmopolitan, in most regions of the world, including Britain, but absent from the Amazon Basin.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Wet Soil Water Plants Semi-shade Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
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.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.

Synonyms P. communis. P. vulgaris. Arundo phragmites.
Phragmites australis Common Reed,  American common reed, Hybrid common reed,  European common reed, Subtropical common re

Phragmites australis Common Reed,  American common reed, Hybrid common reed,  European common reed, Subtropical common re
 Pond; Bog Garden;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Leaves;  Root;  Seed;  Stem.
Edible Uses: Sweetener.

Root - raw or cooked like potatoes[2, 13, 74, 102, 106, 183]. It contains up to 5% sugar. The flavour and texture are best when the root is young and still growing[144]. It can be dried, ground coarsely and used as a porridge[12, 46, 62]. In Russia they are harvested and processed into starch[269]. Young shoots - raw or cooked[61, 62, 102, 179]. They are best if used before the leaves form, when they are really delicious[144]. They can be used like bamboo shoots[183]. The partly unfolded leaves can be used as a potherb and the Japanese dry young leaves, grind them into a powder and mix them with cereal flour when making dumplings[183]. The stems are reported to contain 4.8 g protein, 0.8 g fat, 90.0 g total carbohydrate, 41.2 g fiber, and 4.4 g ash[269]. Seed - raw or cooked[257]. It can be ground into a powder and used as a flour[57, 62, 102, 106]. The seed is rather small and difficult to remove from the husk but it is said to be very nutritious[183]. A sugar is extracted from the stalks or wounded stems[2, 5, 62, 95]. A sweet liquorice-like taste[95], it can be eaten raw or cooked[62]. The stems can be boiled in water and then the water boiled off in order to obtain the sugar[178]. A sugary gum that exudes from the stems can be rolled into balls and eaten as sweets[183]. A powder extracted from the dried stems can be moistened and roasted like marshmallow[62, 95, 102, 183].
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.

Antiasthmatic;  Antidote;  Antiemetic;  Antitussive;  Depurative;  Diuretic;  Febrifuge;  Lithontripic;  Miscellany;  Refrigerant;  Sialagogue;  
Stomachic;  Styptic.

The leaves are used in the treatment of bronchitis and cholera, the ash of the leaves is applied to foul sores[218]. A decoction of the flowers is used in the treatment of cholera and food poisoning[218]. The ashes are styptic[218]. The stem is antidote, antiemetic, antipyretic and refrigerant[218]. The root is antiasthmatic, antiemetic, antipyretic, antitussive, depurative, diuretic, febrifuge, lithontripic, sedative, sialogogue and stomachic[147, 176, 218, 238]. It is taken internally in the treatment of diarrhoea, fevers, vomiting, coughs with thick dark phlegm, lung abscesses, urinary tract infections and food poisoning (especially from sea foods)[238, 257]. Externally, it is mixed with gypsum and used to treat halitosis and toothache[238]. The root is harvested in the autumn and juiced or dried for use in decoctions[238].
Other Uses
Basketry;  Biomass;  Broom;  Cork;  Dye;  Fibre;  Fuel;  Furniture;  Insulation;  Miscellany;  Paper;  Pencil;  Soil stabilization;  Thatching;  Weaving.

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]. The plant is rich in pentosans and may be used for the production of furfural - the nodes and sheaths yield 6.6% whilst the underground parts over 13% of furfural[269]. The pentosan content increases throughout the growing period and is maximum in the mature reed[269]. The reed can be used also for the preparation of absolute alcohol, feed yeast and lactic acid[269]. The stems are useful in the production of homogeneous boards[269]. They can also be processed into a fine fibrous material suitable as a filler in upholstery[269]. The stems have many uses. They are used for thatching roofs[1, 46, 74, 106]. It can last for 100 years[169]. The stems and leaves are also used for building dwellings, lattices, fences, arrows by Indians, and for weaving mats, carrying nets, basket making, insulation, fuel, as a cork substitute etc[13, 74, 99, 102, 115, 257, 269]. The stem contains over 50 percent cellulose and is useful in the manufacture of pulps for rayon and paper[269]. The fibre from the leaves and stems is used for making paper[189]. The fibre is 0.8 - 3.0 mm long and 5.0 - 30.5µm in diameter. The stems and leaves are harvested in the summer, cut into usable pieces and soaked for 24 hours in clear water. They are then cooked for 2 hours with lye and beaten in a blender. The fibre makes a khaki paper[189]. A fibre obtained from the plant is used for making string[95, 106]. The flowering stalks yield a fibre suitable for rope making[269]. The leaves are used in basket making and for weaving mats etc[169, 238]. A light green dye is obtained from the flowers[6, 115]. Freshly cut shoots are a good green manure[74] (Does this man as a soil mulch?[K]). The inflorescences are used as brooms[74]. The plant can be used as a cork substitute[74]. No further details. The plant is mixed with mud to make a plaster for walls[145]. Pens for writing on parchment were cut and fashioned from the thin stems of this reed[269], whilst the stems were also used as a linear measuring device[269]. 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.
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].
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.
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Expert comment                                         
(Cav.)Trin. ex Steud.
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]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[5]Mabey. R. Food for Free.
Edible wild plants found in Britain. Fairly comprehensive, very few pictures and rather optimistic on the desirability of some of the plants.
[6]Mabey. R. Plants with a Purpose.
Details on some of the useful wild plants of Britain. Poor on pictures but otherwise very good.
[12]Loewenfeld. C. and Back. P. Britain's Wild Larder.
A handy pocket guide.
[13]Triska. Dr. Hamlyn Encyclopaedia of Plants.
Very interesting reading, giving some details of plant uses and quite a lot of folk-lore.
[17]Clapham, Tootin and Warburg. Flora of the British Isles.
A very comprehensive flora, the standard reference book but it has no pictures.
[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.
[57]Schery. R. W. Plants for Man.
Fairly readable but not very comprehensive. Deals with plants from around the world.
[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.
[62]Elias. T. and Dykeman. P. A Field Guide to N. American Edible Wild Plants.
Very readable.
[74]Komarov. V. L. Flora of the USSR.
An immense (25 or more large volumes) and not yet completed translation of the Russian flora. Full of information on plant uses and habitats but heavy going for casual readers.
[95]Saunders. C. F. Edible and Useful Wild Plants of the United States and Canada.
Useful wild plants of America. A pocket guide.
[99]Turner. N. J. Plants in British Columbian Indian Technology.
Excellent and readable guide.
[102]Kavasch. B. Native Harvests.
Another guide to the wild foods of America.
[106]Coon. N. The Dictionary of Useful Plants.
Interesting reading but short on detail.
[115]Johnson. C. P. The Useful Plants of Great Britain.
Written about a hundred years ago, but still a very good guide to the useful plants of Britain.
[144]Cribb. A. B. and J. W. Wild Food in Australia.
A very good pocket guide.
[145]Singh. Dr. G. and Kachroo. Prof. Dr. P. Forest Flora of Srinagar.
A good flora of the western Himalayas but poorly illustrated. Some information on plant uses.
[147]? A Barefoot Doctors Manual.
A very readable herbal from China, combining some modern methods with traditional chinese methods.
[162]Grounds. R. Ornamental Grasses.
Cultivation details of many of the grasses and bamboos. Well illustrated.
[169]Buchanan. R. A Weavers Garden.
Covers all aspects of growing your own clothes, from fibre plants to dyes.
[176]Yeung. Him-Che. Handbook of Chinese Herbs and Formulas.
An excellent Chinese herbal giving information on over 500 species. Rather technical and probably best suited to the more accomplished user of herbs.
[178]Stuart. Rev. G. A. Chinese Materia Medica.
A translation of an ancient Chinese herbal. Fascinating.
[179]Reid. B. E. Famine Foods of the Chiu-Huang Pen-ts'ao.
A translation of an ancient Chinese book on edible wild foods. Fascinating.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[189]Bell. L. A. Plant Fibres for Papermaking.
A good practical section on how to make paper on a small scale plus details of about 75 species (quite a few of them tropical) that can be used.
[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.
[218]Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China
Details of over 1,200 medicinal plants of China and brief details of their uses. Often includes an analysis, or at least a list of constituents. Heavy going if you are not into the subject.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[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.
[260]Phillips. R. & Rix. M. Conservatory and Indoor Plants Volumes 1 & 2
Excellent photos of over 1,100 species and cultivars with habits and cultivation details plus a few plant uses. Many species are too tender for outdoors in Britain though there are many that can be grown outside.
[269]Duke. J. Handbook of Energy Crops
Published only on the Internet, excellent information on a wide range of plants.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Robyn Thu Oct 12 2006
i think that you guys should add more about how common reed is used for biomass fuel that would be extrememly awesome. because when students have to write papers on that it is really hard to find good information!! THANKS!
Elizabeth H.
tracey Thu Apr 26 2007
i am a landscape architecture student and i found this page really helpfull i think that you should add some details about reed beds being used as a natural,environmentally friendly water filtration systems as the conservation and reuse of water on site is a biggy for the future. keep up the good work and thanks alot for your information.
Elizabeth H.
Stephen Klaber Fri May 11 2007
This is a plant for NOW. This plant, and its equally edible competitor Typha are plaguing the famine areas of Africa. There is enough of them there to feed everyone comfortably. I've been trying to arouse notice of Typha for a couple of years now. Thanks for clueing me in to phragmites. (Control of them is also part of malaria control - prime realty for mosquitoes).
Elizabeth H.
rafter Wed May 16 2007
On using our giant phragmites stand: It seems like a perfect mulch plant, and spring compost, but... there are numerous studies indicating the presence allelopathic effects from root exudates and foliage of phragmites - specifically against algae. I'm worried about inhibiting soil algae growth. Has anyone heard of folks using this plant for mulch and compost? Any help is very much appreciated!
Elizabeth H.
tracey davies Thu Apr 26 2007
i am a student and i found this page really helpfull i think that you should add some details about reed beds being used for water filtration systems as the conservation of water on a site is a biggy for the future. keep up the good work and thanks alot for your information.
Elizabeth H.
Novem Wed Oct 17 2007
I'd like to add that some strains of Phragmites australis are very aggressive invasive plants in the Northeastern United States that exclude many native species so it is important to keep this in mind. More information is available on the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England.

Invasive Plant Atlas of New England

Elizabeth H.
Liz Sat Jan 17 2009
I would like to know what species is better for thatching the native species of the Northeastern United states or the New England? I want to make sure and plant the appropriate species.
Saul C.
Oct 19 2011 12:00AM
This plant is a bio-accumulator of uranium, thorium, and lead, and can be used in phytoremediation. This also means be careful what you are eating! Reference: Li Guang Yue, et al. 2011, in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.
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