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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.


Regulated areas of phragmites
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

Ecological threat:

  • 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, linear leaves are 15-60 cm (6-24 in) long, 1-6 cm (0.4-2.4 in) wide, and blue-green in color; leaf sheaths tightly clasp the stem, are difficult to remove, and stay on throughout winter; black line and long, white hairs (ligule) 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 19-38 cm (7.5-15 in) long and resemble feather dusters.

Fruits & seeds: Small and tan with many white hairs attached.

Roots: Stout oval rhizomes can reach up to 1.8 m (6 ft) deep and 3 m (10 ft) horizontally.

Similar species: Native Phragmites (Phragmites australis ssp. americanus) has smooth, 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 ornamental grasses (Miscanthus spp.) can be confused with Phragmites due to their showy, feathery plumes. However, they have smaller diameter stems, narrower and longer leaves, sometimes with a white mid-rib and white inflorescences.


Known county distribution of phragmites
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!


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Last revised: Tuesday December 10 2019