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Common Reed

Phragmites australis

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Poaceae (Grass)
Also in this family:
Alpine Catstail, Alpine Foxtail, Alpine Meadow-grass, Annual Beard-grass, Annual Meadow-grass, Arrow Bamboo, Barren Brome Grass, Bearded Couch Grass, Bearded Fescue, Bermuda Grass, Black Bent, Black Grass, Blue Fescue, Blue Moor-grass, Bog Hair-grass, Borrer's Saltmarsh Grass, Bread Wheat, Bristle Bent, Brown Bent, Brown Sedge, Bulbous Foxtail, Bulbous Meadow-grass, California Brome Grass, Canary Grass, Carnation Sedge, Cocksfoot, Cockspur, Common Bent, Common Cord-grass, Common Millet, Common Saltmarsh Grass, Compact Brome Grass, Corn, Couch Grass, Creeping Bent, Creeping Soft-grass, Crested Dog's-tail, Crested Hair-grass, Cultivated Oat, Curved Hard Grass, Cut Grass, Dense Silky Bent, Downy Oat-grass, Drooping Brome Grass, Drooping Tor Grass, Dune Fescue, Early Hair-grass, Early Meadow-grass, Early Sand-grass, False Brome Grass, False Oat-grass, Fern Grass, Fine-leaved Sheep's Fescue, Flattened Meadow-grass, Floating Sweet-grass, Foxtail Barley, French Oat, Giant Fescue, Glaucous Meadow-grass, Great Brome Grass, Greater Quaking Grass, Grey Hair-grass, Hairy Brome Grass, Hairy Finger-grass, Hard Fescue, Hard Grass, Harestail Grass, Heath Grass, Holy Grass, Hybrid Marram Grass, Italian Rye Grass, Knotroot Bristlegrass, Lesser Hairy Brome Grass, Lesser Quaking Grass, Loose Silky Bent, Lyme Grass, Marram Grass, Marsh Foxtail, Mat Grass, Mat-grass Fescue, Meadow Barley, Meadow Fescue, Meadow Foxtail, Meadow Oat-grass, Mountain Melick, Narrow-leaved Meadow-grass, Narrow-leaved Small-reed, Neglected Couch Grass, Nit Grass, Orange Foxtail, Pampas Grass, Perennial Rye Grass, Plicate Sweet-grass, Purple Moor-grass, Purple Small-reed, Purple-stem Catstail, Quaking Grass, Ratstail Fescue, Red Fescue, Reed Canary Grass, Reed Sweet-grass, Reflexed Saltmarsh Grass, Rescue Grass, Rough Meadow-grass, Rush-leaved Fescue, Sand Catstail, Sand Couch Grass, Scandinavian Small-reed, Scottish Small-reed, Sea Barley, Sea Couch Grass, Sea Fern Grass, Sheep's Fescue, Silver Hair-grass, Six-rowed Barley, Slender Brome Grass, Small Cord-grass, Small Sweet-grass, Smaller Catstail, Smooth Brome Grass, Smooth Cord-grass, Smooth Finger-grass, Smooth Meadow-grass, Soft Brome Grass, Somerset Hair-grass, Sorghum, Spreading Meadow-grass, Squirreltail Fescue, Stiff Brome Grass, Stiff Saltmarsh Grass, Sweet Vernal Grass, Tall Fescue, Timothy Grass, Tor Grass, Tufted Hair-grass, Two-rowed Barley, Upright Brome Grass, Velvet Bent, Viviparous Fescue, Wall Barley, Wavy Hair-grass, Wavy Meadow-grass, Whorl Grass, Wild Oat, Wood Barley, Wood Fescue, Wood Meadow-grass, Wood Melick, Wood Millet, Yellow Oat-grass, Yorkshire Fog
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
4.5 metres tall
Bogs, ditches, fens, floodplains, marshes, mountains, ponds, riverbanks, riversides, saltmarshes, swamps, water, waterside, wetland, woodland.

Purple, no petals
Common Reed, known for its elegant and serene presence in British wetlands, boasts slender stems crowned with fluffy, russet-brown plumes, creating a captivating spectacle in the UK's marshy landscapes. These slender flower spikes, or 'plumes,' gracefully sway in the gentlest of breezes, adding a touch of natural poetry to our wetland ecosystems. The Common Reed's botanical beauty is a testament to the rich biodiversity found in the British countryside, where nature's silent symphony unfolds amidst lush, reed-covered habitats.
The fruit of the Common Reed, indigenous to the United Kingdom's wetlands, consists of small, elongated seed capsules, often described as "awns," that are dispersed by the wind. These awns, encasing the seeds within, showcase a delicate brown hue and are an integral part of the reed's life cycle. As the winds sweep across the UK's marshy expanses, these seed capsules gracefully disperse, facilitating the plant's reproduction and contributing to the ongoing cycle of life in the wetland ecosystem.
The leaves of the Common Reed, flourishing in the United Kingdom's wetlands, are characterized by their long, slender, and gracefully arching blades. These blades, or 'leaves,' possess a vibrant green hue, adding to the lushness of the reed beds that can be found across the UK's marshy habitats. The leaves are an essential part of the plant's structure, serving as a foundation for the reed's towering presence and providing shelter and sustenance to various wildlife species. With their slender and elegant appearance, Common Reed leaves contribute to the natural beauty of the UK's wetland landscapes.
Common Reed, flourishing in the wetlands of the United Kingdom, is not particularly known for its fragrance. It is a plant valued more for its structural and ecological contributions than for any notable scent. Unlike some fragrant flowers or herbs, Common Reed does not emit a distinct or appealing fragrance that would attract pollinators or serve as a source of aroma. Instead, it is appreciated for its graceful appearance and its role in creating vital wetland habitats, where its subtle presence enhances the natural beauty of the UK's marshy landscapes in silence.
Other Names:
American Common Reed, Cane Grass, Common Reed, Common Reed Grass, Ditch Reed, European Common Reed, Giant Reed, Giant Reed, Giant Reed Grass, Hybrid Common Reed, Quilrod, Reed Grass, Roseau Cane, Subtropical Common Reed, Yellow Cane.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Phragmites australis, also known as common reed, is a tall perennial grass native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is often found in wetlands and along rivers and can grow up to 15 feet tall. In some areas, it has become invasive and can outcompete native plants. Management strategies include removing the plant manually, using herbicides, and reintroducing native plants.


The Common Reed, also known as Phragmites australis, is a tall perennial grass that is widely distributed across the world. This plant species is one of the most ubiquitous and important wetland plants, and it has many ecological and economic benefits. In this blog, we will explore some of the key characteristics, benefits, and concerns associated with the Common Reed.

Description and Distribution

The Common Reed is a tall, robust grass that can grow up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) tall. It has long, narrow leaves that can reach up to 20 inches (50 cm) in length and a distinctive brownish-red inflorescence that appears in late summer. The plant is widespread throughout the world, from the tropics to the temperate regions, and is found in a variety of wetland habitats such as marshes, swamps, and along the edges of lakes, rivers, and streams.

Ecological Benefits

The Common Reed plays an essential role in maintaining the health and productivity of wetland ecosystems. It provides habitat, food, and shelter for a wide range of animal species, including waterfowl, muskrats, and fish. The plant's extensive root system helps to stabilize wetland soils, prevent erosion, and promote water quality by filtering out pollutants and excess nutrients.

Economic Benefits

In addition to its ecological benefits, the Common Reed also has several economic uses. Historically, the plant has been used for thatching roofs, making baskets and mats, and as a source of fuel. In modern times, the plant is also used for phytoremediation, which involves using plants to remove contaminants from soil and water. Additionally, the Common Reed is increasingly being used as a sustainable source of bioenergy, with the potential to produce ethanol, biogas, and other renewable fuels.


Despite its many benefits, the Common Reed is also considered an invasive species in many parts of the world. The plant's fast growth and extensive root system allow it to outcompete native plant species, leading to a reduction in biodiversity and overall ecological health. Additionally, the plant's dense stands can impede water flow, increasing the risk of flooding and damaging wetland habitats.

The Common Reed is a remarkable plant species that plays a vital role in maintaining healthy wetland ecosystems. While it has many ecological and economic benefits, it is important to manage its growth carefully to prevent it from becoming an invasive species. By balancing its benefits with potential risks, we can ensure that the Common Reed continues to be a valuable resource for generations to come.


The Common Reed belongs to the Poaceae family, which includes other important grasses such as rice, wheat, and maize. Within the Phragmites genus, there are two subspecies: Phragmites australis subsp. australis, which is found in Eurasia and Australia, and Phragmites australis subsp. americanus, which is found in North and South America.


The Common Reed can reproduce both vegetatively and sexually. It spreads vegetatively by underground rhizomes, which can quickly form dense stands of plants. Sexual reproduction occurs through the production of seeds, which are dispersed by wind or water.

Cultural Significance

The Common Reed has played a significant role in many cultures around the world. In some Native American traditions, the plant was believed to have healing properties and was used to treat a variety of ailments. In Europe, the plant was traditionally used for thatching roofs and making brooms, baskets, and mats. In Africa, the plant has been used to make musical instruments, such as the ngoni, a type of West African lute.


The Common Reed is considered a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, in some regions, the plant is at risk of becoming an invasive species, which can negatively impact native plant and animal species. Efforts are underway to manage the plant's growth and prevent it from becoming invasive.

The Common Reed is a fascinating plant species with many ecological, economic, and cultural benefits. While it is important to manage its growth carefully to prevent it from becoming invasive, it is clear that this plant has a valuable role to play in maintaining healthy wetland ecosystems and providing important resources for human use.


The Common Reed is a highly adaptable plant that is capable of surviving in a variety of wetland environments. Its extensive root system allows it to obtain water and nutrients from deep within the soil, while its tall stems and leaves help it to compete for sunlight with other plants. The plant is also able to tolerate a wide range of salinity levels and water depths, which makes it well-suited for colonizing tidal wetlands and other dynamic environments.

Cultural Control

One way to manage the growth of the Common Reed is through cultural control methods, which involve physically removing the plant or altering its habitat to prevent its growth. This can include mowing, burning, or cutting the plant, or manipulating water levels to create less favorable growing conditions.

Biological Control

Another approach to managing the Common Reed is through biological control, which involves introducing natural predators or competitors to the ecosystem to help control the plant's growth. This can include insects, fungi, or other plant species that are known to compete with the Common Reed for resources.

Genetic Diversity

Recent research has shown that the Common Reed exhibits high levels of genetic diversity, which suggests that it has a high degree of adaptability and may be able to respond to environmental change. This genetic diversity also makes the plant an important resource for research and conservation efforts.

The Common Reed is a highly adaptable plant that provides many ecological, economic, and cultural benefits. While it is important to manage its growth to prevent it from becoming invasive, the plant's many uses and adaptations make it an important resource for wetland ecosystems and human societies around the world.

Ecological Services

The Common Reed provides a number of important ecological services, including stabilizing soil and preventing erosion, filtering pollutants from water, providing habitat for wildlife, and promoting nutrient cycling in wetland ecosystems. The dense stands of the plant can also help to reduce wave action, which can protect coastal communities from storm surge and flooding.

Human Uses

The Common Reed has been used by humans for a variety of purposes throughout history. In addition to thatching roofs, making baskets, and producing musical instruments, the plant has been used for fuel, paper-making, and even as a food source in some cultures. In modern times, the plant is also being explored as a potential source of biofuel and as a means of phytoremediation, or using plants to remove pollutants from contaminated soils and water.

Invasive Potential

While the Common Reed is an important plant in wetland ecosystems, it also has the potential to become an invasive species. When the plant is introduced to a new environment, it can quickly form dense stands that outcompete native species, alter water flow patterns, and impact the functioning of the ecosystem. Invasive populations of the Common Reed can be difficult to control, which is why it is important to prevent its introduction to new areas and manage its growth carefully.

Cultural Significance

The Common Reed has played an important role in many cultures around the world. In some traditional African societies, the plant is seen as a symbol of strength and resilience, while in Japan, it is associated with the concept of impermanence and the transience of life. In many Native American cultures, the plant is used for ceremonial purposes and is believed to have spiritual significance.

Overall, the Common Reed is a plant with many important ecological, cultural, and economic uses. While it is important to manage its growth to prevent it from becoming invasive, the plant's many benefits make it a valuable resource for wetland ecosystems and human societies around the world.


Common Reed filmed in Bourton-on-the-water in the Cotswolds on the 24th June 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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