European common reed

(Phragmites australis ssp. australis)

Conservation Status


No image available

  IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern


NNA - Not applicable

SNA - Not applicable


not listed

Weed Status

RN – Restricted noxious weed


Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FACW - Facultative wetland


FACW - Facultative wetland

  Northcentral & Northeast

FACW - Facultative wetland


European common reed is a 4 to 16 tall, perennial, reed-like grass that rises on a single stem from an underground stem (rhizome) and fibrous roots. It quickly forms large dense colonies that crowd out all other species of plants. The rhizome is stout and oval in cross section. Most nodes of the rhizome are more than in diameter.

The stem (culm) is annual, stout, 3 16 to in diameter, hollow between the nodes, unbranched, rigid, leafy, and hairless. It is dull, not shiny, and slightly ridged. It is usually all green with yellowish nodes. Sometimes the lower nodes are maroon. It is sometimes covered with a whitish, waxy film (glaucous). In the spring and summer the lower part of the culm, when the leaf is removed, is tan. In the winter it is tan, rarely brownish

The leaves are alternate, ascending to arching, and dark grayish-green or bluish-green. They persist on the culm in the winter. The blades are linear lance-shaped, flat, flexible, 6 to 24 long, and ¾ to 1½ wide. They taper to a slender, thread-like point at the tip. The upper and lower surfaces are hairless. The upper surface has numerous parallel veins. The midvein is noticeably thickened on the underside. The lower part of the leaf that surrounds the stem (sheath) is usually hairless, sometimes hairy along the margins. The margins of the sheath overlap. Where the leaf blade meets the sheath there is a thin, pliable appendage (ligule). The ligule is 0.4 to 0.9 mm long and has a fringe of white hairs. In the winter the sheaths do not pull away from the culm easily.

The inflorescence is a large, dense, plume-like cluster (panicle) of numerous ascending to drooping branches. The panicle is egg-shaped to lance-shaped in outline, 6 to 14 long, and 3 to 8 wide. It is silky and purplish or reddish when in bloom, light tan to dark brown when in fruit.

Each spikelet is egg-shaped to inversely triangular on outline, somewhat flattened, and to long. One spikelet consists of an upper and lower protective bract (glume) and 3 to 8 florets. The lower 1 or 2 florets are male (staminate), the upper 1 or 2 are reduced in size and nonfunctional (sterile), and the remaining ones contain both male and female parts (bisexual). The florets are closely spaced along a zigzagged central axis (rachilla). The rachilla is densely covered with silky, ¼ to long hairs. The glumes have 1 to 3 veins, are hairless, and are shorter than the florets. The lower glume is 1 16to 3 16 long. The upper glume is much longer, to ¼ long.

Each fertile floret consists of an outer protective bract (lemma), an inner protective bract (palea), and reproductive parts. The lemma is 5 16 to ½ (7.5 to 12 mm) long, is rounded on the back, and has 3 veins. The palea has 2 veins. Bisexual florets have 3 stamens with purplish anthers. Staminate florets may have fewer stamens.

Fruits are seldom produced and when they are they rarely mature. A mature fruit (caryopsis) is 1 16 to long, oblong, and circular or slightly flattened in cross section, with a short beak at the tip.




4 to 16


Similar Species

  North American common reed (Phragmites australis ssp. americanus) is usually found in low densities mixed with other native plants. The leaves are lighter in color, often yellowish-green. In winter the leaves fall off leaving a bare reddish culm where it has been exposed to sunlight. Leaves remaining on the culm pull away easily. Culms are shiny and smooth, not ridged, and often have black fungal spots. The inflorescence is less dense and will not persist through the winter. Two other differentiating characteristics, a longer ligule and a longer glume, are microscopic and can not be measured in the field.  

Fairly dry to wet.




August to September




Distribution Map


Sources: 3, 4, 7, 22, 28, 29, 30.

Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC): MNPhrag Phragmites Locations 2020. Retrieved 4/29/2021.

EDDMapS shows this subspecies present in almost every county in Minnesota based on both observations and literature. The map at left does not include EDDMapS data.




Native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Introduced and widely naturalized in North America.





  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Liliopsida (monocots)  


Poales (grasses, sedges, cattails, and allies)  


Poaceae (grasses)  
  No Rank PACMAD clade  
  Subfamily Arundinoideae (reeds, giant canes, and allies)  
  Tribe Molinieae  
  Subtribe Moliniinae  


Phragmites (reeds)  
  Species Phragmites australis (common reed)  





Common Names


common reed

European common reed

invasive common reed















The dry, one-seeded, achene-like fruit of a grass, formed from a single carpel, not opening at maturity, and with the fruit wall (pericarp) fused to the seed coat.



The hollow or pithy stem of a grass, sedge, or rush.



Pale green or bluish gray due to a whitish, powdery or waxy film, as on a plum or a grape.



A chaffy, empty, sterile bract at the base of a grass spikelet. Glumes usually occur in pairs, but occasionally only one is present.



The outer, lowermost of the pair of bracts at the base of the grass floret; it ensheathes the palea.



In grasses, a membranous appendage at the junction of the leaf and the leaf sheath, sometimes no more than a fringe of hairs. In flowering plants, the flat, strap-shaped, petal-like portion of the corolla of a ray floret.



Long, straight, and narrow, with more or less parallel sides, like a blade of grass.



The small swelling of the stem from which one or more leaves, branches, or buds originate.



The inner, uppermost of the pair of bracts at the base of the grass floret.



A pyramidal inflorescence with a main stem and branches. Flowers on the lower, longer branches mature earlier than those on the shorter, upper ones.



A horizontal, usually underground stem. It serves as a reproductive structure, producing roots below and shoots above at the nodes.



The lower part of the leaf that surrounds the stem.



The basic unit of inflorescence in grasses, composed of usually two glumes and one or more florets.

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Other Videos
  Invasive Phragmites australis: A significant threat to Great Lakes coastal habitats (Part 1 of 2)

Uploaded on Oct 4, 2009

Hosted by Friends of Oliphant Coastal Environment

  Invasive Phragmites australis: A significant threat to Great Lakes coastal habitats (Part 2 of 2)

Uploaded on Oct 4, 2009

Hosted by Friends of Oliphant Coastal Environment

  Students Kill Invasive 'Phrag'
National Geographic

Published on Sep 22, 2014

An invasive species of marsh reed has taken over a wetland in New York, and high school students have joined with biologists to try to destroy it without using chemicals. Phragmites australis, also referred to as phrag, is a large, invasive reed that kills plants around it. Many in nearby communities oppose chemical spraying, so attempts are under way to control the plant naturally.

PRODUCER: Eileen Mignoni
VIDEOGRAPHERS/EDITORS: Nacho Corbella and Eileen Mignoni
MUSIC: Noah Altshuler
PHOTOGRAPHY: Ted Spiegel and Dorothy Peteet

  Invasive Phragmites

Uploaded on Feb 17, 2011

  How Invasive Phragmites are Invading Our Wetlands

Published on Sep 11, 2014 Get Your FREE App and Be a PhragSpotter

If you haven't heard of Phragmites yet, then it's high time that you do…

This is an invasive species that actually puts our wetlands and shorelines at risk. Hence, it puts our lifestyles and our way of living at risk as well.

Yes—this problem is serious. Unfortunately, many aren't taking this problem as seriously as they should. Don't be one of them.

Invasive Phragmites can pose as a huge problem. They can thrive in any condition, take over different types of open spaces—and they can easily dominate fields. In fact, Ontario has 18 footer "phrags" growing in various areas.

If we don't do anything about this problem, then there's a high chance that we'll lose access to our lakes, beaches and other public areas. Forecasts have also shown that if nothing is done about this problem, most of Canada will be covered in Phragmites in 15 years.

Fortunately, it's not too late. Help us "Stop the Invasion" and Download Your FREE App Now.

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