(Phragmites australis), also known as the common reed, is an aggressive wetland invader that grows along the shorelines of water bodies or in water several feet deep. It is characterized by its towering height of up to 14 feet and its stiff wide leaves and hollow stem. Its feathery and drooping inflorescences (clusters of tiny flowers) are purplish when flowering and turn whitish, grayish, or brownish in fruit. Eventually, Phragmites become the sole dominant plant in many of these wetlands at the expense of native flora and animals dependent on these native habitats.
Common reed has been invading aggressively much of the Great Lakes shoreline as well as inland wetlands. Once Phragmites invades a site it quickly can take over a marsh community, crowding out native plants, changing marsh hydrology, altering wildlife habitat, and increasing fire potential. Its high biomass blocks light to other plants and occupies all the growing space below ground so plant communities can turn into a Phragmites monoculture very quickly. Phragmites can spread both by seed dispersal and by vegetative spread via fragments of rhizomes that break off and are transported elsewhere. New populations of the introduced type may appear sparse for the first few years of growth but due to the plant’s rapid growth rate, they will typically form a pure stand that chokes out other vegetation very quickly.
Identifying the Problem
Before taking any action, you should first determine whether the plants are native or invasive Phragmites. Use the following photos to help you identify the difference between native and introduced species of Phragmites.