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Non-native Phragmites or Common reed (Phragmites australis)
Perennial wetland grass that grows 3-20’ tall with dull, very slightly ridged, stiff, and hollow stems. Create dense clones where canes remain visible in winter.
This species is Prohibited (Red counties) and Restricted (Orange counties).
Other names for this plant include:
- Common names: common reed grass, ditch reed, giant reed
- Scientific names: Arundo phragmites; A. australis; P. communis
- Invades moist habitats including lake shores, river banks and roadways. Is common in disturbed areas and can tolerate brackish waters, dry conditions and alkaline to acidic conditions.
- Can quickly become established with extensive rhizomes taking over underground. These rhizomes store energy so the plant can recover from cutting, burning or grazing.
- Common reed alters hydrology and wildlife habitat, increases fire potential, and shades native species.
- It can spread through root fragmentation, long runners above ground, and sometimes windblown seeds or cut stem fragments.
Classification in Wisconsin: Prohibited/Restricted (Restricted in Brown, Calumet, Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Door, Florence, Fond du Lac, Forest, Green Lake, Jefferson, Kenosha, Kewaunee, Langlade, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marinette, Marquette, Menominee, Milwaukee, Oconto, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Portage, Racine, Rock, Shawano, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha, Waupaca, Waushara, and Winnebago counties; Prohibited elsewhere)
Species Assessment Groups (SAG) were assembled to recommend a legal classification for each species considered for NR 40. The recommendation for phragmites was based upon this literature review developed by the department.
Leaves: Smooth, narrow leaves are 6- 24” long, 0.4-2.4” wide and blue-green in color. Leaf sheaths tightly clasp the stem, are difficult to remove, and stay on through winter. Long hairs are present at the junction of leaf and sheath.
Flowers: Bushy, light brown to purple plumes are composed of spikelets that bloom July-September. Plumes are 7.5-15” long and often resemble feather dusters.
Fruits & seeds: Small and tan with many white hairs attached.
Roots: Stout oval rhizomes can reach to 6’deep and 10’ horizontally.
Similar species: Native Phragmites (Phragmites australis ssp. americanus)has smooth, reddish-brown, flexible stems, often with shiny, round, black spots (a fungus). Its inflorescence is usually sparser than non-native phragmites, as are most patches where it grows. Several species of Miscanthus grasses can be easily confused with Phragmites due to their showy, feathery plumes. However, they have smaller stems, a white mid-rib on the leaves, and white inflorescences.
There are many websites that provide characteristics to determine native-or-not phragmites, including a good leaflet produced by The Michigan Natural Features Inventory
Counties in WI where phragmites has been reported (as of July 2011). Both vouchered and unvouchered reports included.
Do you have phragmites in your county but it isn't shaded on the map? Send us a report.
Mechanical: After a chemical application either mowing or burning can be used for additional control and maintenance.
Chemical: Imazapyr or glyphosate can be used as a foliar spray or applied to cut stems after using the bundle and cut method in late summer-fall. Use of herbicides near water or wet ground may require a permit and aquatic formulas of herbicide.
View phragmites pictures in our photo gallery!
Sources for content:
- Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's Guide to the Control and Management of Invasive Phragmites (3rd ed., 2014)
- USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Area Forest Health Staff. Weed of the Week: Common Reed
- Invasive Plant Atlas of New England: Common Reed
- Plant Conservation Alliance Factsheet: Common Reed. Last updated July 2009.
Links for More Information