Phragmites “Common Reed” (Phragmites australis)

Although it is widely agreed that the species is invasive, there is some debate as to whether phragmites is native or exotic. Soil records indicate its  presence in the United States as long as 3,000 years ago. However, some argue that an aggressive European strand was introduced to the US in the early 1900s and that this is the strain that is so invasive (spreading up to 50’ per year). In any case, phragmites has thrived in recent years, given the opportunities created by the ecosystem disturbances that surround increased development and agriculture around wetlands.

This species is easily recognizable given its size and prevalence in areas where it has gained a foothold. These colonies of 8-10 foot tall reeds along roadsides and saltmarshes completely take over, reducing diverse wetland ecosystems to hundreds of stands of phragmites. Although it has some value to wildlife, the species it replaces are often more beneficial to the wildlife. Primary control in areas densely covered in phragmites should be herbicide treatment, but in order to be most effective, this should be followed by prescribed fire, mechanical treatment, and/or water level management (it is intolerant of salt water and can be controlled by flooding).

Trailside Treasures by Nancy Wigley and Susan Carr notes that Phragmites’ stems can be used for calligraphy pens, and that in Russia, cellulose from Phragmites is used in the manufacture of paper and is considered an important crop.