Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Phragmites australis
(common reed)



Phragmites australis (common reed)


  • Last modified
  • 07 December 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Phragmites australis
  • Preferred Common Name
  • common reed
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Phragmites australis, the common reed, is an aggressive, vigorous species which, in suitable habitats, will out-compete virtually all other species and form a totally dominant stand. Its invasive character has...

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Short stand (4 m or less) growing in nutrient-poor wetland (northern poor-fen) conditions. (Insh Marshes, Scotland, UK)
TitleShort stand of P. australis
CaptionShort stand (4 m or less) growing in nutrient-poor wetland (northern poor-fen) conditions. (Insh Marshes, Scotland, UK)
Copyright©K.J. Murphy
Short stand (4 m or less) growing in nutrient-poor wetland (northern poor-fen) conditions. (Insh Marshes, Scotland, UK)
Short stand of P. australisShort stand (4 m or less) growing in nutrient-poor wetland (northern poor-fen) conditions. (Insh Marshes, Scotland, UK)©K.J. Murphy


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. Ex Steud.

Preferred Common Name

  • common reed

Other Scientific Names

  • Arundo altissima Benth.
  • Arundo australis L.
  • Arundo phragmites L.
  • Arundo phragmites communis Trin.
  • Arundo pumila Griseb.
  • Phragmites australis var. berlandieri (Fourn.) C.F. Reed.
  • Phragmites berlandieri Fournier
  • Phragmites communis Trin.
  • Phragmites communis subsp. maximus Clayton
  • Phragmites frutescens H. Scholtz
  • Phragmites gigantea J. Gay
  • Phragmites isiaca Kunth
  • Phragmites loscosii Willk.
  • Phragmites phragmites (L.) Karst.
  • Phragmites pumila Willk.
  • Phragmites vulgaris (Lam.) Crep.
  • Phragmites vulgaris Crep.
  • PHRCO (Phragmites australis) BAYER

International Common Names

  • English: ditch reed; giant reed; reed; reed grass
  • Spanish: caña
  • French: roseau
  • Portuguese: canico

Local Common Names

  • Argentina: canizo
  • Cambodia: prabos
  • Chile: carrizo
  • Denmark: tagror
  • Egypt: bous
  • Finland: jarviruoko
  • Germany: Schilfror
  • Iraq: quasad
  • Italy: canna di palude
  • Japan: ashi; yoshi
  • Korea, Republic of: galdae
  • Netherlands: riet
  • Philippines: bugang
  • Sri Lanka: nala-gas
  • Sweden: bladvass
  • Thailand: or-lek
  • Turkey: kamis
  • Vietnam: say

EPPO code

  • PHRCO (Phragmites australis)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Phragmites australis, the common reed, is an aggressive, vigorous species which, in suitable habitats, will out-compete virtually all other species and form a totally dominant stand. Its invasive character has been particularly apparent in North America where it has become dominant in a range of wetland habitats replacing native species and biotypes including the native North American P. australis subsp. americanus. Bird, fish and insect populations can also be affected.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Cyperales
  •                         Family: Poaceae
  •                             Genus: Phragmites
  •                                 Species: Phragmites australis

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Long known by its synonym P. communis, this species is now universally known as P. australis, also embracing P. vulgaris. It is a phenotypically, genetically and cytologically variable plant, mainly tetraploid, but with triploid, hexaploid, octoploid and dodecaploid forms also known (Preston and Croft, 1997; Hansen et al., 2007).

According to Rodwell (1995), much of the morphological variation is phenotypic adaptation, perpetuated in clonal populations, but at least two sub-species are recognized. The typical Eurasian type is generally known as subsp. australis while the native North American form, once called P. berlandieri, is now known as subsp. americanus (Saltonstall, 2002; Catling, 2006, 2007a,b). Saltonstall and Hauber (2007) have recently suggested that the Eurasian populations include a range of forms which should not all be referred to as subsp. australis.  They also propose the name S. australis subsp. berlandieri for the distinct native form occurring on the Gulf of Mexico coast of the southern USA, and provide a key to the three forms occurring in North America, indicating that South American forms are distinct from these and most Eurasian material. This is supported by Lambertini et al. (2006) who used AFLPs to distinguish one group comprising all South American clones, a distinct group from the US Gulf of Mexico coast, and a group of eastern Asian and Australian octoploids. A halophytic race in southern Europe has been known as subsp. altissimus (also as P. communis subsp. Maximus, or P. isiaca) but Catling (2007a,b) suggests this form should be included in subsp. australis.

A form with vegetatively proliferating spikelets has been known as P. frutescens but is now regarded as a variety of P. australis.


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Typical P. australis in Eurasia is a robust erect perennial grass, aquatic or subaquatic, growing to 4 m high (occasionally 6 m), strongly tufted, with an extensive rhizome system. Stolons may also be present. Stems rigid, many-noded; internodes hollow. Leaves alternate, up to 70 cm long, with a ligule of hairs (resembling short eyelashes) up to 1.5 mm long; leaf blade flat, up to 60 cm long and 8-60 mm wide, tapering to a spiny point, rigid, glabrous or sometimes covered with a whitish bloom; leaf sheaths loose and overlapping. Inflorescence a feathery, drooping panicle 15-50 cm long, often tan-brown to purplish; many-flowered; branches slender, ascending; spikelets several-flowered, 10-18 mm long, with florets exceeded by rachilla hairs; first glume 2.5-5 mm long; second glume 5.7 mm long; lemmas thin, 3-nerved, densely and softly hairy; nerves ending in slender teeth, the middle tooth extending into a straight awn; seed slender, dark brown.

The native North American P. australis subsp. americanus is distinguished by basal internodes red or purplish (pale yellow in typical  introduced forms) and lower glumes up to 7 mm long (up to 5 mm in introduced forms) (Catling, 2006).Other differences include ligule width 1-1.7 mm in subsp. americanus; 0.4-0.9 mm in exotic forms; and leaf sheaths loose and shed as the plant senesces in subsp. americanus, tight and retained after the leaf falls in exotic forms (Saltonstall, 2005).

Plant Type

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Grass / sedge
Seed propagated


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P. australis is one of the most widely distributed of all flowering plants, with a very extensive native range throughout the world, from above 70°N, to equatorial regions, and south to Tasmania (Australia) and the cone of South America. Weber (2003) indicates that P. australis is native only in Europe and the Canary Islands, and introduced in Africa, Asia, etc. USDA-ARS (2008), however, indicates that the exact native range is ‘obscure’ but lists native countries in most of the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia, with New Zealand and the Pacific Ocean as areas where it is ‘naturalized’. This is just one of several references to occurrence in the Pacific Ocean, but it has proved difficult finding confirmation of its distribution in that area.

The situation in North America is now known to be complex. Saltonstall (2002) has confirmed that there is a North American native form (P. australis subsp. americanus), but that this is now being displaced by an introduced form of P. australis from Eurasia. States of the USA where the introduced form has already been documented include Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin (Saltonstall, 2005; Lambert and Casagrande, 2006, 2007; Meadows and Saltonstall, 2007; Payne and Blossey, 2007), but it is certain that the exotic form is much more widely distributed in North America than this suggests. Although not formally reported in the literature as such, there is a high probability that P. australis is present in almost every country worldwide. It does not, however, act as a weed species in every country, and there are extensive areas (for example in deltas such as the Danube in Romania and the Volga in Russia) where it is an extremely important native species of natural wetlands.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


AfghanistanPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
ArmeniaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
AzerbaijanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
BahrainWidespreadNativeChaudhary et al., 1981
BangladeshPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
ChinaWidespreadNativeWang, 1990; Holm et al., 1991
-HunanPresentNativeWang, 1990; Holm et al., 1991
-Nei MengguPresentNativeWang et al., 2007
IndiaPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
-GujaratPresentNativePandey, 2002
-Jammu and KashmirPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
IndonesiaPresentNativeTjitrosoedirdjo and Sastroutomo, 1985
IranWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1991
IraqWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1991
IsraelWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1991
JapanWidespreadNativeNumata and Yoshikawa, 1975; Holm et al., 1991
-HonshuPresentNativeNumata and Yoshikawa, 1975; Holm et al., 1991
JordanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
KazakhstanPresentNativeAntonov and Kambulin, 1992
Korea, DPRPresentNative
Korea, Republic ofPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
KuwaitPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
KyrgyzstanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
LaosPresentNativeMoody, 1989
MalaysiaPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
OmanPresentNativeRobson, 1976; Chaudhary et al., 1981
PakistanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
PhilippinesWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1991
Saudi ArabiaWidespreadNativeRobson, 1976; Chaudhary et al., 1981; Holm et al., 1991
Sri LankaPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
TaiwanWidespreadNativeWang, 1990; Holm et al., 1991
TajikistanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
ThailandPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
TurkeyPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
TurkmenistanPresentNativeKaryeva, 1990
UzbekistanPresentNativeTashmatov, 1992
VietnamPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
YemenPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012


BotswanaPresentNativeLaunert, 1971; Wells et al., 1986
CameroonPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
Cape VerdePresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
ChadPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
EgyptPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
EritreaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
EthiopiaPresentNativeClayton, 1970
GambiaPresentNativeClayton, 1972
KenyaPresentNativeClayton, 1970
LesothoPresentNativeWells et al., 1986
LibyaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
MadagascarPresentNative Invasive Holm et al., 1991
MoroccoPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
MozambiquePresentNativeLaunert, 1971
NamibiaPresentNativeWells et al., 1986
NigerPresentNativeClayton, 1972
NigeriaPresentNativeClayton, 1972; Okafor, 1982
SenegalPresentNativeClayton, 1972
SomaliaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
South AfricaPresentNativeWells et al., 1986; Holm et al., 1991
-Canary IslandsPresentNative Invasive Santos and Fernandez, 1984
SudanPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
SwazilandPresentNativeWells et al., 1986
TunisiaPresentNativeGorai et al., 2006
ZambiaPresentNativeLaunert, 1971
ZimbabwePresentNativeLaunert, 1971; Holm et al., 1991

North America

CanadaWidespreadNative Invasive Holm et al., 1991All provinces except Yukon and Nunavut
-AlbertaPresentNativeShay and Shay, 1986
-British ColumbiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
-ManitobaPresentNativeShay and Shay, 1986
-New BrunswickPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
-Newfoundland and LabradorPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
-Northwest TerritoriesPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
-Nova ScotiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
-OntarioPresentNative Invasive Catling, 2007; USDA-ARS, 2012
-Prince Edward IslandPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
-QuebecPresentNative Invasive Gervais et al., 1993
-SaskatchewanPresentNativeShay and Shay, 1986
MexicoWidespreadNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
USAWidespreadNative Invasive Holm et al., 1991; USDA-NRCS, 2008
-ColoradoPresentNative Invasive Saltonstall, 2005; USDA-ARS, 2012
-ConnecticutPresentNative Invasive Holm et al., 1991
-DelawarePresent Invasive Saltonstall, 2005; Meadows and Saltonstall, 2007
-FloridaPresentNativeBaird et al., 1983
-GeorgiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Saltonstall, 2005
-HawaiiLocalisedIntroducedHEAR, 2008
-IndianaPresentNative Invasive Saltonstall, 2005; USDA-ARS, 2012
-KentuckyPresentNative Invasive Saltonstall, 2005; USDA-ARS, 2012
-LouisianaPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
-MarylandPresentNative Invasive Saltonstall, 2005; Meadows and Saltonstall, 2007; USDA-ARS, 2012
-MassachusettsPresentPayne and Blossey, 2007; USDA-ARS, 2012
-MichiganPresent Invasive Saltonstall, 2005
-New HampshirePresent Invasive Saltonstall, 2005
-New JerseyPresentHolm et al., 1991; Meadows and Saltonstall, 2007
-New YorkPresent Invasive Saltonstall, 2005
-North CarolinaPresentHolm et al., 1991
-OhioPresent Invasive Saltonstall, 2005
-PennsylvaniaPresent Invasive Saltonstall, 2005
-Rhode IslandPresent Invasive Lambert and Casagrande, 2006
-TennesseePresentIntroduced Invasive Saltonstall, 2005
-VermontPresent Invasive Saltonstall, 2005
-VirginiaPresent Invasive Saltonstall, 2005
-WisconsinPresent Invasive Saltonstall, 2005

Central America and Caribbean

BahamasPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
BelizePresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
Costa RicaPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
Dominican RepublicPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
El SalvadorPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
GuadeloupePresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
GuatemalaPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
HaitiPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
HondurasPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
JamaicaPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
MartiniquePresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
NicaraguaPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
PanamaPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
Puerto RicoPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
Saint LuciaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012

South America

ArgentinaWidespreadHolm et al., 1991
BoliviaPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
BrazilPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
ChilePresentNative Invasive Ramirez and Anazco, 1982; Holm et al., 1991
ColombiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
EcuadorPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
French GuianaPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
GuyanaPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
PeruPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
SurinamePresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
UruguayPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012
VenezuelaPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012


AlbaniaPresentNativeRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008
AustriaPresentNativeRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008
BelarusPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
BelgiumPresentNativevan Himme et al., 1977
Bosnia-HercegovinaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
BulgariaPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991; Yurukova and Kochev, 1993
CroatiaPresentNativeHulina, 1990
CyprusPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
Czechoslovakia (former)PresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
DenmarkPresentNativeHald-Mortensen, 1982
EstoniaPresentNativeKsenofontova, 1988
FinlandWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1991
FrancePresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
-CorsicaPresentNativeRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008
GermanyWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1991
GreeceWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1991
HungaryPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
IrelandPresentNativePreston and Croft, 1997
ItalyWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1991
LatviaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
LithuaniaPresentNativeTrainauskaite and Yankyavichyus, 1994
MacedoniaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
MontenegroPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
NetherlandsPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
NorwayPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
PolandPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
PortugalWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1991
RomaniaPresentNativeSarpe et al., 1981; Holm et al., 1991
Russian FederationWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1991
-Central RussiaPresentNativeRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008
-Northern RussiaPresentNativeRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008
-Southern RussiaPresentNativeRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008
SerbiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
SloveniaPresentNativeUrbanc-Bercic and Blejec, 1993
SpainWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1991; Cirujeda et al., 2011
-Balearic IslandsPresentNativeRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008
SwedenPresentNativeSvensson, 1983; Hertzman, 1986
SwitzerlandPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
UKPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
UkrainePresentNativeDzhyuba, 1992
Yugoslavia (former)PresentNativeHolm et al., 1991


AustraliaWidespreadNative Invasive Holm et al., 1991
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentNativeSainty and Jacobs, 1988
-New South WalesPresentNativeSainty and Jacobs, 1988
-QueenslandPresentNativeIzatt, 1979; Sainty and Jacobs, 1988
-South AustraliaPresentNativeSainty and Jacobs, 1988
-TasmaniaPresentNativeSainty and Jacobs, 1988; Holm et al., 1991
-VictoriaPresentNativeSainty and Jacobs, 1988
-Western AustraliaPresentNativeSainty and Jacobs, 1988
New ZealandWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991

History of Introduction and Spread

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As noted elsewhere, the original native distribution of P. australis is uncertain but appears to be extremely wide, such that most of Europe, Asia and the Americas have been its home for millennia. Only in New Zealand and the Pacific islands has it been introduced for the first time in recent centuries, though there is now well-documented evidence for the introduction of exotic biotypes from Eurasia into the USA sometime in the 1800s, resulting in an explosive spread of the Eurasian form there in the past 100 years, replacing, and spreading beyond the range of, the native biotype that is believed to have been there for at least 10,000 years (Saltonstall, 2002; Saltonstall et al., 2004). In Canada, it was introduced to the state of Quebec as early as 1916 (Lelong et al., 2007).

Risk of Introduction

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The risk of introduction of P. australis into the relatively few regions where it is not already present remains quite high. Availability via the internet makes deliberate introduction feasible (Kay and Hoyle, 2001) and while introduction in crop seed is not especially likely, the mere abundance of the weed and the variety of uses to which it is put mean that there is always a risk of accidental contamination of various types of produce or container. Similarly there is the risk of introduction of exotic biotypes such as has occurred in North America.


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P. australis is a cosmopolitan (boreal to tropical) and highly adaptable emergent grass of freshwater to brackish water up to 10,000 p.p.m. total dissolved salts (Sainty and Jacobs, 1988) and wetlands, including artificial channel systems of irrigated and drained agricultural areas. It is found in systems of widely varying nutrient status from oligotrophic to eutrophic (Haslam, 1972; Hocking et al., 1983). It is rare in very nutrient-poor waters, and although it may occur in hypertrophic conditions, the plant appears to suffer problems, such as die-back (Klotzli, 1971; Nijburg and Laanbroek, 1997). In China, Chen et al. (2006) describe ecotypes from desert and dune habitats as well as swamp, low salt meadow and high salt meadow.

Al-Garni (2006) found P. australis to make greater growth at moderate salinity of 50 mM NaCl but sharply reduced growth at 250-300 mM, though the tolerance of salinity varies among different subspecies and varieties. The form once known as subsp. altissimus in the Mediterranean has a higher tolerance than typical subsp. australis. The introduced form of the weed invading the USA apparently has a somewhat higher tolerance of salinity than at least some of the native forms (Vasquez et al., 2005), but it is reduced salinity of habitats there that is contributing to the spread of the invasive form, as it replaces more salt tolerant species, such as Spartina (Silliman et al., 2004; Bart et al., 2006; Vasquez et al., 2006).

P. australis usually (but not exclusively) prefers stationary or slow-moving waters, and areas of land with a high water table, or that are seasonally inundated. It occurs as a marginal or bankside species along many watercourses, but can grow to depths of 1 m in water. It is more common in lowland areas, but can occur in upland, in the UK to about 500 m (Rodwell, 1995) or even alpine waters, especially where nutrient pollution has occurred to enrich these systems (Blake et al., 1986).

Habitat List

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Terrestrial – ManagedManaged forests, plantations and orchards Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural grasslands Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Principal habitat Natural
Wetlands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Wetlands Principal habitat Natural
Deserts Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Coastal areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal areas Principal habitat Natural
Coastal dunes Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Mud flats Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Mud flats Principal habitat Natural
Salt marshes Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Salt marshes Principal habitat Natural
Lagoons Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Lagoons Principal habitat Natural
Inland saline areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Inland saline areas Principal habitat Natural
Inshore marine Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Biology and Ecology

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Hansen et al. (2007) studying material from a wide range of sites in Europe and North America found tetraploid, hexaploid, octoploid and dodecaploid forms (2n=48, 72, 96, 144), and triploid forms (2n=36) are also known (Preston and Croft, 1997). When Hansen et al. grew clones alongside each other in Denmark, octoploids were more vigorous than tetraploids and hexaploids, with dodecaploids intermediate. In a study of native and introduced forms of P. phragmites, Saltonstall (2002; 2003) identifies a range of haplotypes, also observing that hybridization occurs between the introduced and two native forms, subsp. americanus and berlandieri, but is rare.

Reproductive Biology

Reproduction is by both seed and vegetative spread. Both P. australis and P. karka share an ability for aggressive vegetative spread, by stolons in the case of P. karka, and by rhizomes (although stolons may also be produced) in the case of P. australis. Although a substantial effort is usually put into seed production (wind-pollinated and wind-distributed, aided by possession of long silky hair-like plumes on the fruits or related structures), seeds usually represent little more than an insurance policy against destruction of the established reed population. Germination occurs at 10-30°C, optimal at 20°C, but favoured by alternating temperatures with an amplitude of at least 10°C (Ekstam and Forseby, 1999). Germination is slower under saline conditions but still occurs at 400 mM salinity (Gorai et al., 2006). The range of suitable habitats for seed germination is often narrow, germinating poorly if at all, in water >5 cm deep, and appear to have a pre-germination drying period requirement to break dormancy (Vasconcelos, 1981). Climatic conditions also appear to act as important regulators of seed production and germination (McKee and Richards, 1996).

Physiology and Phenology

Both P. australis and P. karka are long-lived perennial plants with an aquatic to amphibious strategy, preferring rich muddy substrates, but with a high degree of plasticity, adapting to a wide range of substrates and water conditions. P. karka has a preference for warm tropical conditions, but P. australis is much more cosmopolitan in its distribution. Longevity is reported to be as high as 1000 years (Haslam, 1972).

Haslam (1969a, 1969b, 1970, 1972) and Mal and Narine (2004) provide much useful autecological data for P. australis, although it is likely that much of the following data also applies to P. karka. Emergent bud width which determines the basal stem diameter, is a good predictor of growth rate and ultimate shoot height of the plant in developing reed populations. In good conditions, strong, tall stems with large, horizontally-held leaves are produced which permit the plant to compete efficiently for available light. The root system is large and well-adapted to anaerobic conditions common in submerged soils, as they possess aerenchymatous tissues to provide gas ventilation from the leaves. P. australis exhibits a combination of long, thick, unbranched roots that penetrate the substrate, plus smaller, much-branched roots infiltrating the water and surface layers of the sediment. Together the two root types maximize the chances of roots successfully tapping available nutrients, even in the crowded conditions typical of the reed swamp habitat. In a dense stand of P. australis, underground parts (rhizome, root and bases of stems) may comprise up to 80% of total biomass.

Phragmites plants are highly competitive, forming crowded, often near-mono-specific stands (commonly >100 shoots m²). Reeds may show substantial productivity under favourable conditions, for example, up to 2000 g organic matter (ash-free dry weight)/m² year in temperate reed swamp conditions.

Alongside this strong competitive element in the life strategy of Phragmites reeds, there is evidence for the presence of at least some traits for tolerance of disturbance. They are aggressive, fast-growing colonizers of empty habitats suited to its growth, observed in newly-created Dutch polders, in land exposed by the receding of the Caspian sea and reeds were one of the first colonizers of Krakatoa (Indonesia) following the volcanic eruption there (Ridley, 1930). In artificial drainage channels such as those in arable lands in eastern England, reed colonization after dredging operations is rapid, usually requiring clearance measures (herbicide or mechanical) within 2-3 years if channel functioning is to be maintained. In the absence of appropriate control, channels may become completely blocked by reed vegetation.


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As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BW - Desert climate Tolerated < 430mm annual precipitation
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)
Df - Continental climate, wet all year Tolerated Continental climate, wet all year (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, wet all year)
Ds - Continental climate with dry summer Tolerated Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)
Dw - Continental climate with dry winter Tolerated Continental climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
65 50

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 5 30
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 35
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) -5


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall2000mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

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Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • impeded
  • seasonally waterlogged

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral
  • very acid
  • very alkaline

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • saline

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Whereas there is evidence that many insects, such as the moths Rhizedra lutosa and Archanara geminipuncta (Toorn and Mook, 1982) shoot files and gall midges damage Phragmites tissues (Bruyn, 1987; Szél and Ádám, 1989; Tscharntke, 1989; Häfliger et al., 2006a,b), few serious attempts (other than the simple use of domestic grazing animals) appear to have been made to develop viable biological control options. Hyalopterus pruni, a serious pest of plum trees, uses P. australis as an alternate host (Fol'kina, 1980).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Dispersal of seeds is no doubt aided by possession of long silky hair-like plumes on the fruits or related structures which encourage wind-dispersal. Seeds are also distributed in water, especially along river channels. Otherwise local spread is by rhizome and stolon growth, which can result in large clonal masses, some reputed to be up to 1000 years in age. Average rate of spread in a North American salt marsh was only 0.36 m/annum (Burdick et al., 2001) but in the Netherlands, new populations could spread at up to 4 m/annum (Clevering and Toorn, 2000).

Pathway Causes

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Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Aircraft Yes
Wind Yes
Water Yes

Plant Trade

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Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transportPest stagesBorne internallyBorne externallyVisibility of pest or symptoms
True seeds (inc. grain) Yes

Impact Summary

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Economic/livelihood Negative
Environment (generally) Positive and negative

Economic Impact

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Phragmites reeds are major aquatic weeds, and also act as weeds in other non-crop systems, for example, in forests and along railways in Japan (Manabe, 1980; Ito et al., 1982). They can affect a wide range of crops, particularly in fields adjacent to drainage or irrigation canal systems, from which the plant may easily invade. Crops affected include cotton, maize and rice in Russia, Hungary (Horvath, 1990), Ukraine and other countries of the former Soviet Union (Dzhyuba, 1992); rice in Greece, Portugal, Taiwan, Laos, the Philippines, Thailand, India, North Korea and Vietnam (Ul'yanova, 1988; Moody, 1989); sugarbeet in Zimbabwe and the Netherlands; sugarcane in Australia (Izatt, 1979); wheat in Iran and the Netherlands; spring wheat and potatoes in Sweden (Svensson, 1983); flax in Romania (Sarpe et al., 1981); apple and pear orchards in Belgium (Himme et al., 1977); and oilseed rape in the Netherlands (Holm et al., 1991). In Japan, it has been reported as a long-term invader of fallow paddy fields (Anzai and Matsumoto, 1988).

In Europe, P. australis is considered to be the most severe cause of emergent weed problems in channel and other freshwater systems, and this status is encountered in many other parts of the world. In Egypt, it is a major component of the channel flora, and also invades salinized areas of irrigated land (Serag, 1996). In such aquatic weed situations the biggest problem is blockage of water flow (Khattab and El-Gharably, 1990), which causes attendant difficulties for system functioning, such as drainage water removal, irrigation water supply and recreational or commercial fishing access. It can also be a problem in acting as invaders of constructed wetlands, for example, P. australis invasion could be extensive in 15 of the largest artificial wetlands in Virginia, USA, 6 years after construction, and if conditions remained favourable for colonization, constructed wetlands could be overrun in 40 years (Havens et al., 1997).

In Kazakhstan, stands of P. australis have been reported as playing a key role in the development of pest swarms of locusts (Antonov and Kambulin, 1992). It also acts as an alternate host to a range of important cereal virus diseases including Maize dwarf mosaic virus (MDMV), Barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV-PAV) and Sugarcane mosaic virus (SCMV) (Ilbagi, 2006).

Environmental Impact

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Lambert and Casagrande (2007) indicate that subspecies australis is invading estuarine and wetland ecosystems throughout North America, and displacement of the native subspecies americanus is a major concern. Silliman et al. (2004) concluded that invasive populations of P. australis in salt marshes resulted in an almost three-fold decrease in plant species richness. Minchinton et al. (2006) refer to replacement of many native species in coastal marshes of New England, USA, as a result of shading and build-up of litter.

P. australis contributes significantly to the methane emissions of wetland vegetation, though rather less than does Spartina alternifolia (Cheng et al., 2007) or Equisetum fluviatile (Bergström et al., 2007). Huang et al. (2005) further point out that whereas the weed is a major source of methane in the summer, it can act as a sink for the gas under cooler spring conditions.

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Cirsium wrightii (Wright's marsh thistle)NatureServe NatureServe; USA ESA candidate species USA ESA candidate speciesArizona; New MexicoCompetition (unspecified); Ecosystem change / habitat alterationUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2015
Pedicularis furbishiae (Furbish lousewort)NatureServe NatureServe; USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesNew Brunswick; MaineCompetition - monopolizing resourcesUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2007
Pipilo crissalis eremophilus (Inyo California towhee)USA ESA listing as threatened species USA ESA listing as threatened speciesCaliforniaEcosystem change / habitat alterationUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2008
Pyrgulopsis chupaderae (Chupadera springsnail)DD (IUCN red list: Data deficient) DD (IUCN red list: Data deficient); USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesNew MexicoEcosystem change / habitat alterationUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013
Solidago houghtonii (Houghton's goldenrod)NT (IUCN red list: Near threatened) NT (IUCN red list: Near threatened); USA ESA listing as threatened species USA ESA listing as threatened speciesOntario; MichiganCompetition - monopolizing resources; Ecosystem change / habitat alterationUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011
Spiranthes delitescensEN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesArizonaCompetition - smotheringUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 1997

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
  • Has high genetic variability
Impact outcomes
  • Changed gene pool/ selective loss of genotypes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Competition - smothering
  • Competition
  • Filtration
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
  • Difficult/costly to control


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P. australis plays a useful role in wastewater management systems utilizing artificial wetlands for reduction of nitrogen, biological oxygen demand and total suspended solids from primary municipal wastewaters (Gersberg et al., 1986; Gray and Biddlestone, 1995). In both these and natural wetlands, stands of Phragmites reeds, and their associated microflora are excellent clean-up agents for removal of pollutants, sediment and other undesirable materials from water. Phragmites reeds are of value in preventing soil erosion on river and channel banks (Bonham, 1980).

It is a major harvested resource for thatch and other traditional crafts. It is also harvested for pulp production in some countries with extensive reed swamp stands, such as the Danube delta, Romania. It can be grazed by livestock and is used as fodder, mainly when young, for example in the Volga delta, Russia and Kashmir, India (Langar and Bakshi, 1990). It is grown as a crop in northern China (Li and Cao, 1981).

It is also essential to note, that being native to such a globally widespread area, Phragmites stands also play a major co-evolved wildlife support role in wetland areas, especially in temperate areas, being a vital part of the wetland ecosystem supporting wildfowl and other animals (Dely-Draskovits et al., 1992).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed
  • Forage


  • Erosion control or dune stabilization


  • Miscellaneous fuels


  • Fibre

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Phragmites australis is distinguishable from the related African/Asian/Australasian species P. karka by its longer ligule (up to 1.5 mm in P. australis, only 0.5 mm in P. karka), leaves smooth below and tip filiform, flexuous in P. australis (scabrid below and with stiff, attenuate tips in P. karka), upper glume 5-9 mm and much larger than lower in P. australis (3-5 mm, similar to lower in P. karka), lower lemma longer in P. australis (very short in P. karka) and rachilla hairs 6-10 mm in P. australis, 4-7 mm in P. karka. Rhizomes may be absent from P. karka in some areas, with stolons only, but floras often indicate presence of rhizomes in P. karka too. P. mauritianus is included by Missouri Botanical Gardens (2008) as a synonym for P. australis but is treated as a separate species by Clayton et al. (2008), occurring mainly in Africa and the Indian Ocean. It differs from P. karka mainly in the shape of the upper glume which is acute to subacute in P. karka, shortly acuminate in P. mauritianus. The only other recognized species, P. japonicus, occurring only in eastern Asia, is distinguished by lower glumes twice the length of the lowest lemma, instead of shorter as in P. australis.

There is a strong superficial resemblance to the tall reed Arundo donax, also widespread through the Mediterranean and tropical Asia, but the latter is distinguished by the lack of silky beard at the bases of the lowest panicle branches (present in Phragmites), and presence of long hairs on the lemmas (absent in Phragmites species).

Prevention and Control

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Effective management programmes for Phragmites are usually based on burning, the use of plastic mulch, discing, chemical control, cutting, grazing, dredging, and draining or the manipulation of the water table and salinity (Marks et al., 1994).

Cultural Control

Cutting is a standard control measure, but tends to produce highly variable results. Nearly two years effective control was achieved in North Carolina marshes, USA, using a hand-held weed trimmer with a saw blade to clear vegetation to within 15 cm of the hydrosoil surface Kay (1995). However, in UK drainage channel systems, frequent winter mowing promoted growth of P. australis and adversely affected drainage efficiency (Milsom et al., 1994). Mowing every 2, 4 or 8 weeks achieved 93, 81 and 69% reduction at the end of the growing season, respectively, but there was strong re-growth in the following season (Derr, 2008). In Japan, Asaeda et al. (2006) showed cutting in June to be better than cutting in July. Smith (2005) showed that on a small scale, repeated manual breakage of stems below water could achieve long-term control.

Rolletschek et al. (2000) confirm that cutting and burning can be much more effective when followed by flooding. Cutting or other harvesting methods are often considered to be the least-damaging of available control methods on the environment (Ditlhogo et al., 1992), and there were no consistent deleterious effects on herbivorous arthropods of regular harvesting of reeds in Lake Neusiedler, Austria (Kampichler et al., 1994).

Autumn ploughing 25-27 cm deep for rhizome exposure and desiccation followed by reploughing in spring is effective against the common reed in Russian rice crops. Fragmented rhizomes soon die under a layer of water and this method is reported to be very effective if carried out every year (Agarkov, 1980).

In Dutch reed stands, Mook and Toorn (1982) found that damage to just-emerging shoots in April or early May by burning (wet- and dry-burned plots) or early ground-frost (dry-burned and dry-mown plots), retarded growth of leaves and shoots for about 1-2 weeks, but the relative growth rate and maximal levels reached were not significantly lower than in undamaged areas. Heavy damage by late ground-frost (dry-burned plot) or by the stem-boring larvae of Archanara geminipuncta (wet-undisturbed plot) lowered the maximal shoot biomass by about 25-35%. Heavy infestation by the rhizome-boring larvae of Rhizedra lutosa (dry-undisturbed and dry-mown plots during later years) gave losses in yield of about 45-60%.

Winter harvesting and burning influence the geometry (stem diameter and relative wall thickness) and mechanical properties (modulus of elasticity and breaking stress) of reed culms (Ostendorp, 1995), weakening the plants and making them more susceptible to other control measures.

Biological Control

Schwarzländer and Häfliger (2000) record 28 insect herbivore species feeding on P. australis in North America, and more than 140 insect species in Europe and Asia Minor. For at least 55 of these, P. australis is the only known host plant. A range of shoot flies, gall midges (Cecidomyiidae), and moths cause damage by mining in stems or rhizomes and are considered to have some ‘minor potential’ as biocontrol organisms but none have been fully checked and tested. Häfliger et al. (2006a,b) consider Archanara geminipuncta to be the most promising organism to be studied so far for control of invasive populations in North America, but there have been no reports of its implementation. Some attention has been paid to the possibilities of inundative control of Phragmites reeds using insects in Australia, although the approach does not appear to have been widely used there (Wapshere, 1990).

Grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) will eat the young shoots of developing Phragmites reeds, but they are not generally a preferred species (Nikanorov and Polyakova, 1980). However, in fallow rice paddies in Japan, Tsuchiya (1979) reported that grass carp weighing 0.5-2 kg grazed areas of 4-30 m² in fallow paddies, controlling P. australis, as well as Typha latifolia and Isachne globosa.

Chemical Control

Glyphosate is usually highly effective against Phragmites and other emergent weeds, across a wide spectrum of climatic and environmental conditions (Barrett, 1976; Riemer, 1976; Comes et al., 1981; Eaton et al., 1981; Fernandes et al., 1981; Evans, 1978,1982; Baird et al., 1983; Al-Juboory and Ali, 1996). However, Derr (2008) cautions that there is almost invariably some regrowth after 12 months and that repeat applications are required for continued control. Glyphosate has been successfully used to control invasive reed growth in sensitive areas, such as wetland bird reserves in Spain and the UK (Cooke, 1991; Dies Jambrino and Fernández-Anero, 1997), and freshwater fisheries (Caffrey, 1996). Arsenovic and Konstantinovic (1990) also found imazapyr was 100% effective against emergent weeds including P. australis whereas glufosinate application resulted in 98% weed control and 10-20% regrowth. However, Derr (2008) reports only partial control by glufosinate. Dalapon selectively controls Phragmites and other narrow-leaved emergent monocotyledonous weeds (Chancellor, 1960; Barrett, 1976; Agaronian et al., 1980; Comes et al., 1981), being particularly effective when sprayed at the time of year, usually mid-late summer, when carbohydrate reserves are being laid down in the reed rhizome (Barrett and Robson, 1974).

Weed-wiper technology has been employed using glyphosate and imazapyr against Phragmites reeds, but with mixed success (Evans, 1982). In Sweden, Svensson (1983) reported 80% control of P. australis in spring wheat and potatoes, but the technique was not successful against reeds in waterways. Kay (1995) concluded that whilst cutting can provide long-term reed control, wipe-on herbicide application using reduced-dose treatments comprising 25-50% of the recommended concentration was not a practical method of P. australis control in a shallow, freshwater marsh in North Carolina, USA. In Italy, Rapparini and Fabbri (1988) reported that contamination of the water in canals treated with glyphosate to control reeds was reduced to a minimum or even eliminated when the herbicide was applied with a 4-m smear boom fitted with brushes, and both banks and channels were able to be treated in this way.

Aerial application of glyphosate and imazapyr using a microlight aircraft was successful in controlling Phragmites stands causing a fire hazard along power line routes in South Africa, giving 50-100% control, with cost savings of 72% compared with conventional land-based control operations (Rensburg, 1996).

Flupropanate has been used for reed control in uncultivated and forest areas in Japan and Korea (Manabe, 1980), although symptoms of yellowing, twisting, stunting and necrosis were observed in crops screened by Hwang et al. (1996). Both direct-seeded and transplanted rice were also sensitive to the herbicide. Effects on reeds varied with soil type of the treated field and reed growth stage and a relatively high dosage of the herbicide was required for reed control. In Japan, haloxyfop provided excellent long term control of P. australis when the weed was 1-1.5 m tall (Matsumoto, 1987). In laboratory studies, Xian and Price (1987) found that fluazifop-butyl could give effective control and suppression of regrowth of P. australis and was the most effective herbicide for post-emergence control of reed in soyabeans and cotton. Derr (2008) reports negligible effectiveness of a range of grass herbicides including fenoxaprop, fluazifop, clethodim, sethoxydim, MSMA, quinclorac and dithiopyr.

In flax crops in Romania, successful attempts were made to control P. australis using bromoxynil + MCPA (post-emergence), together with either a pre-sowing treatment with metolachlor or with the addition of fluazifop-butyl to the bromoxynil + MCPA treatment (Sarpe et al., 1981).


Integrated control may be used in eradication programmes aimed at Phragmites reeds. In Egypt, Ashour Ahmed (1990) reported that a regime consisting of 2 applications of dalapon combined with burning 10 weeks after the second application, followed by ploughing in conjunction with the removal of dead rhizomes with the ploughed soil, and finally flooding, gave near-complete control of a dense stand of P. australis in a dry pond of 3000 m². Less than 5% of the initial plant cover had regenerated 10 months after herbicide application.

Cane growers in southern Queensland, Australia, have advocated an integrated programme for reed control using deep ploughing followed by rotary hoeing, which can destroy most of the root system of P. australis, but this is unlikely to provide complete eradication. Two applications of dalapon gave rapid, short-term control, whereas two applications of glyphosate showed slower, but longer-term control (Izatt, 1979).


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10/03/2008 Updated by:

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