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Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud.

Syn.: Phragmites communes Trin.
Phragmites vulgaris B.S.P.
Common reed

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Common reed provides high quality warm-season forage and is readily eaten by cattle and horses. However, it becomes tough and unpalatable after maturity. Animals grazing this grass during winter should be fed a protein concentrate. Extensively used in Mediterranean region and elsewhere for building dwellings, lattices, fences, arrows by Indians, and for weaving mats and carrying nets. Young shoots sometimes used as a vegetable. The stalks exude a manna-like gum which is eaten. The rhizomes and roots also serve as emergency food. In Russia they are harvested and processed into starch. A variegated form is grown as an ornamental. The reed is useful in the manufacture of pulps for rayon and paper. It contains over 50 percent cellulose and has a fibre 0.8–3.0 mm long and 5.0–30.5 mm in diameter. Pens for writing on parchment were cut and fashioned from this reed, and the stems were used as a linear measuring device. It is also useful in the production of homogeneous boards. It can be processed into a fine fibrous material suitable as a filler in upholstery. Flowering stalks yield a fiber suitable for rope making. It is also used for thatching and for making partitions, fences, coarse mats, baskets, sandals, etc. Thin stems are made into pens; panicles are used for making brooms and for decoration.

Folk Medicine

According to Hartwell (1967–1971), the plant is used in folk remedies for condylomata, indurated breast, mammary carcinomata, and leukemia. Reported to be alexeteric, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, refrigerant, sialogogue, stomachic, and sudorific, the common reed is a folk remedy for abscesses, arthritis, bronchitis, cancer, cholera, cough, diabetes, dropsy, dysuria, fever, flux, gout, hematuria, hemorrhage, hiccup, jaundice, leukemia, lung, nausea, rheumatism, sores, stomach, thirst, and typhoid.


Per 100 g, the reed is reported to contain (ZMB): 415 calories, 10.6 g protein, 2.1 g fat, 72.7 g total carbohydrate, 31.9 g fiber, 14.6 g ash, 480 mg Ca, 60 mg P, and 130 mg Mg. Leaves are reported to contain 17.1 g protein, 3.5 g fat, 63.7 g total carbohydrate, 27.4 g fiber, and 15.7 g ash. 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. According to Hagers Handbook (List and Horhammer, 1969–1979), the fresh herb contains 5.15 mg Vit. A/100 g, and 91.1 mg Vit. C as well as Vit. B1, and B2, the triterpene b-amyrin, taraxerol, and taraxeron (C30H48O). The rhizomes contain: moisture, 5.3; nitrogenous substances, 5.2; fat, 0.9; NFE, 50.8; CF, 32.0; sucrose, 5.2; reducing sugars, 1.1; and ash (rich in silica), 5.8%. Asparagine (0.1%) is also present. P. communes is rich in pentosans and may be used for the production of furfural; nodes and sheaths yield 6.6% and the underground parts over 13% of furfural. The pentosan content increases throughout the growing period and is maximum in the mature reed. The reed can be used also for the preparation of absolute alcohol, feed yeast and lactic acid. Analysis of the young grass gave: protein, 11.4; EE, 2.3; carbohydrates, 43.1; CF, 31.05; mineral matter (with high silica content), 10.8; calcium (CaO), 0.94; and phosphorus (P2O5) 0.39%. The reed is reported to contain a wax and a saponin. Leaves have a high ascorbic acid content (200 mg/100g).


Perennial grass; culms erect, 2–4 m tall, occasionally up to 6 m, with stout creeping rhizomes, often also with stolons; leaf-blades broad, flat, 1.5–6 dm long, 1–6 cm broad, glabrous, green or glaucous, the sheaths overlapping; panicle tawny or purplish, 15–40 cm long, the branches ascending, rather densely flowered; spikelets 10–17 mm long, the florets exceeded by the hairs of the rachilla; first glume 2.5–5 mm long; second glume 5.7 mm long; lemmas glabrous, sharp-pointed, not bifid, with long hairs confined to rachilla joints; lowest floret staminate. Fl. July–October.


There is considerable variability in glaucousness of leaves, shape and denseness of panicle and growth habit. The variegated form, or Spire-reed, is sold as an ornamental grass. Reported from the Eurosiberian Center of Diversity, reed or cvs thereof is reported to tolerate fire, frost, high pH, salt, weeds, and waterlogging.(2n = 48, 36, 54)


Native to Eurasia, Africa, but now widespread throughout the world; throughout United States, Mexico, West Indies to Chile and Argentina, Australia.


Grows in marshes and swamps, along streams, lakes, ponds, ditches, and wet wastelands, often weedy and very difficult to eradicate, as the stoloniferous rhizomes may reach 10 m or more in length. Grows best in firm mineral clays, and tolerates moderate salinity, where water level fluctuates from 15 cm below soil surface to 15 cm above. Tolerates burning if water is above soil surface, but burning is not essential for management. In Gulf Coast marsh rangelands, it is often co-dominate with Big cordgrass (Spartina cynosuroides). Ranging from Cool Temperate Steppe to Wet through Tropical Desert to Moist Forest Life Zones, reed is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 3.1 to 24.1 dm (mean of 16 cases = 9.8) annual temperature of 6.6 to 26.6°C (mean of 16 cases = 14.8) and pH of 4.8 to 8.2 (mean of 12 cases = 6.2). (Duke, 1978, 1979)


Rarely if ever really cultivated. However, stands may be started by transplanting young plants or rooted stolons. Starts growth in February in southern locations, later further north. Foliage stays green until frost. New shoots grow from buds at nodes of old stems, stolons or rhizomes.


Giant reed cannot withstand prolonged heavy grazing. Its upright growth makes it easy for livestock to remove all the leaves. For maximum production, no more than 50% of current year's growth by weight should be grazed off during the growing season. Water control that lowers the water level but does not drain the area increases production. Grazing deferments of 60–90 days improve plant vigor. The straight hollow stems are cut in autumn and dried for arrowshafts, pipestems, loom rods, screens, roofing for houses and adobe huts, etc. Leaves are also gathered and used for weaving mats and other objects.

Yields and Economics

Though the plants grow profusely wherever they occur, few yield data are available. A very useful grass wherever it grows, especially in the Mediterranean region, North Africa, and western North America. Although used extensively locally, its products do not enter commercial markets.


Reed swamps in Europe produce 7.5–13.0 MT/ha/yr. According to the Phytomass files (Duke, 1981b), annual productivity ranges from 40 to 63 MT/ha. Reeds are currently being harvested from Swedish lakes at a cost of ca $50/MT (ca $2.86/GJ gross thermal value), which rises to $60/MT after transportation and final processing ($3.43/GJ gross thermal value). These costs are expected to diminish as machines and methods are optimised (Palz and Chartier, 1980).

Biotic Factors

Because of its extensive use, a great number of fungi have been reported on giant reed; however, none of them have seemed to have caused any great damage to the grass. Reported are the following fungi: Belonioscypha vexata, Belonopsis excelsior, Bispora hamonis, Chaetomella atra, Cladosporium herbarum, Clasterosporium lindavianum, Claviceps purpurea, C. microcephala, Coniosporium arundinis, C. sorghi, Cyphella capula, Dinemasporium strigosum, Diplodina arundinacea, D. donacina, Epicoccum neglectum, Fomes fomentarius, Fusarium graminearum, Graphyllium dakotense, G. graminis, G. manitobiense, Hadrotrichum phragmitis, Helminthosporium fusiforme, Helotium robustius, Hendersonia arundinacea, H. fuckelii, H. graminicola, H. phragmitis, Hymenella arundinis, Lachnum acutipilum, Leptosphaeria arundinaceae, L. culmifraga, L. donacina, L. littoralis, L. phragmiticola, Leptostroma phragmitis, Lophiostoma arundinis, Lophiodermium arundinaceum, Melaconium echinosporum, M. sphaerospermum, Melanopsamma pomiformis, Meliola arundinis, Microdiplodia machlaiana, Mollisia arundinacea, M. riparia, Napicladium arundinaceum, Nervossia iowensis, Papularia sphaerosperma, Phyllosticta phragmitis, Piricularia grisea, Pirostoma circinans, Placosphaeria dothideoides, P. rimosa, Pleospora adscondita, Pseudographis phragmitis, Puccinia argentea, P. isiacea, P. invenusta, P. magnusiana, P. phragmitis (rubella), P. trabutii, Pythium debaryanum, P. ultimum, Rhabdospora arundinis, Rhopographus clavisporus, Scirrhia ramosa, Scolecotrichum graminis, S. maculicola, Selenophoma donacis, Sphaerella phragmitis, Stagonospora arenaria, S. dolosa, S. neglecta, S. graminella, S. simplicior, S. vexata, Tapesia hydrophila, Teichospora phragmitis, Torula herbarum, Trichobelonium kneiffii, Uromyces blandus, Ustilago grandis, U. hypodytes, Volutella therryana. The nematode Subanguina radicicola has been isolated from this grass.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Wednesday, January 7, 1998 by aw