Common Reed

Photo of common reed plants in large colony
Safety Concerns
Scientific Name
Phragmites australis australis
Poaceae (grasses)

A grass with very tall, hollow stems. Long, flat leaves spread out widely from the stem, growing 4 to 20 inches long and 1 to 1½ inches wide, with rough edges and a fine tip. The leaf collar, or ligule, a small outgrowth where the stem and leaf join, is a ring with dense, stiff hairs. Tawny, purplish flowers have long, silky hairs and occur in a large, plumelike panicle 6 to 20 inches long. Blooms in midsummer; seed set by late September.


Height: to 15 feet.

Where To Find
image of Common Reed distribution map

Currently established in 26 Missouri counties.

Common reed occurs in disturbed or pristine wetlands, including shores of ponds and lakes, marshes, springs, riverbanks, roadsides, and ditches. It grows best in areas with slow or stagnant water and is able to tolerate frequent, prolonged flooding, seasonal drying, and moderate salinities. It prefers full sun and it is generally shade intolerant.

Invasive. Occurs throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. It was most likely introduced to North America by accident in ballast material during the 1800s.

Life Cycle

Common reed usually spreads vegetatively by aboveground stolons (lateral shoots that root to form new plants) and belowground rhizomes. Dense clusters can form with 8-20 stems per square foot. Stolon growth and seed germination occur in exposed moist soils during times of low water. New populations can be established from small rhizome fragments or by seeds, which can be dispersed by wind or water.

Worldwide this reed has been used for roof thatching, basketry, and more. Unfortunately, the invasive subspecies of common reed (P. australis australis) is currently being promoted and used for constructed wetlands as a treatment for municipal sewage in at least four Missouri municipalities.

Its vigorous rhizomatous growth often results in dense, impenetrable stands, altering diversity in natural wetlands. The thick litter and dense vegetative growth prevents native plant species from growing and can alter an area's hydrology. Wetland wildlife habitat is substantially degraded.

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About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!