Phragmites australis australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud.

Common Name: Common reed

Synonyms and Other Names:

Common reed, common reedgrass, giant reed, phrag, Arundo altissima Benth., Arundo australis Cav., Arundo graeca Link, Arundo isiaca Delile, Arundo maxima Forssk., Arundo occidentalis Sieber ex Schult., Arundo palustris Salisb., Arundo phragmites L., Arundo vulgaris Lam., Cynodon phragmites (L.) Raspail, Oxyanthe phragmites (L.) Nieuwl., Phragmites altissimus (Benth.) Mabille ex Debeaux, Phragmites australis var. berlandieri (E. Fourn.) C.F. Reed, Phragmites australis ssp. maximus (Forssk.) Soó, Phragmites berlandieri E. Fourn., Phragmites capensis Nees, Phragmites caudatus Nees ex Meyen, Phragmites chilensis Steud., 

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Identification: Introduced Phragmites australis subsp. australis is a perennial reed that grows from elongated rhizomes or stolons; 1-6 meters tall, forms dense stands which include both live and standing dead stems from previous year’s growth (Clayton et al. 2006, Klein 2011).

Leaves and Stems:

Culms (stems) erect; hollow; reed-like; simple; 150–600 cm long; 5-15 mm thick; hollow internodes (Clayton et al. 2006, Klein 2011). Culms are tan in color; ridged or ribbed; have a rougher texture than the native common reed (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010).
Leaves are linear to lanceolate-linear; flat; drooping; leaf-blades deciduous at the ligule; 20–60 cm long; 8–32 mm wide with pointed tips (Clayton et al. 2006, Klein 2011). Leaf blade surface smooth; cauline (Clayton et al. 2006). Leaves are blue green and usually darker than the native lineage (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). Each leaf consists of a blade and a loose sheath separated ciliate ligules that form minute membranous rims fringed with hairs; 0.2-0.6 mm long (Clayton et al. 2006, Klein 2011). Leaf sheaths adhere tightly to culm throughout the growing season; persistent (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). Leaf-blade apex attenuates; filiform (Clayton et al. 2006).

Flower-head and Flowers:

Inflorescence a panicle; bearing juvenile spikelets at emergence (Clayton et al. 2006). Panicles are oblong, purplish when young, straw colored at maturity; 15-50 cm long; 6-20 cm wide (Clayton et al. 2006, Klein 2011). Primary panicle branches divided; bearing spikelets almost to the base Clayton et al. 2006). Spikelets solitary; pedicelled (Clayton et al. 2006). Pedicels are filiform (Clayton et al. 2006). Spikelets comprising 3–11 florets; with diminished florets at the apex (Clayton et al 2006, Klein 2011). Spikelets cuneate; laterally compressed; 10–18 mm long; stalked with 6-10 mm long hairs on the stalks; breaking up at maturity (Clayton et al. 2006). Floret callus elongated; 1–1.25 mm long; bearded; obtuse. Glumes are paired; persistent; shorter than spikelets; gaping (Clayton et al. 2006). Lower glume lanceolate; 3–7 mm long; 0.5–0.6 length of upper glume; membranous; without keels; 3–5 veined. Lower glume apex acute. Upper glume lanceolate; 5–10 mm long; without keels; 3–5 veined (Clayton et al. 2006, Klein 2011). Upper glume apex acute (Clayton et al. 2006). Basal florets are sterile florets are male with palea; persist on panicle (Clayton et al. 2006). Lemma are glabrous; lanceolate; 8–15 mm long; membranous; acuminate; with somewhat in-rolled margins. Lower lemmas are unawned and upper lemmas are awned; Lemma apex acuminate (Clayton et al, 2006, Klein 2011). Palea present; with scaberulous keels (Clayton et al. 2006). Flowers typically occur in August and September and form bushy panicles that are usually purple or golden in color with 2 lodicules, 3 anthers, and a glabrous ovary (Clayton et al. 2006, Klein 2011).

Fruit is a caryopsis with an adherent pericarp (Clayton et al. 2006). Seeds     are 2 to 3 mm long (Klein 2011). As seeds mature, the panicles begin to look “fluffy” due to the hairs in the spikelet on the rachilla, and they take on a grey sheen (Saltonstall 2005).

Other Features:

Below ground, Phragmites australis forms a dense network of roots and rhizomes which can go down up to two meters in depth to reach deep ground water (MA DCR 2002). The plant spreads horizontally by sending out underground rhizomes and over ground runners which can grow 10 or more feet in a single growing season if conditions are optimal (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010).

Distinguishing Between Native and Non-native Phragmites australis:

Many morphological characteristics can be used to distinguish native Phragmites australis subsp. americanus from the introduced lineage Phragmites australis subsp. australis. However, there are many overlaps in characteristics making it necessary to look at multiple factors when making a determination based on morphology. The following characteristics should NOT be used to distinguish populations in southern areas (California to the Gulf of Mexico) where the Gulf coast type may be present as it is very similar in appearance to the introduced lineage (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010).

Growth Forms:

Introduced Phragmites australis subsp. australis typically forms denser stands than the native Phragmites australis subsp. americanus, the introduced subspecies stands are also more likely to include dead stems from the previous year’s growth (MNFI 2016, Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). Introduced Phragmites is more likely to form monocultures, outcompeting and excluding other plant species. The native Phragmites, is much less robust, typically occurring in low density stands, and is frequently found with other native plants but it can occasionally occur in very dense stands more typical of the introduced form when enriched with nutrients (MNFI 2016, Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010).


Leaves of the invasive subspecies are a bluish gray-green, while those of the native lineage are typically a lighter yellow-green (MNFI 2016, Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). This is easiest to see when they grow side-by-side (MNFI 2016).

Leaf Sheaths:

The leaf sheaths of the introduced Phragmites adhere more tightly to the culm and persist as long as it remains standing, whereas those of the native lineage adhere less tightly and peel back eventually dropping off the culm once the leaf dies particularly at the lower nodes exposing the stem below (MNFI 2016, Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010).

Culms and Rhizomes:

Culms of the introduced lineage are rigid and have a rougher texture than the native, which is usually smooth and shiny (MNFI 2016). Culms of the native lineage are more likely to be red, typically around the nodes and where the leaf sheaths have been lost. Whereas the culms of the non-native lineage are usually a dull tan color (MNFI 2016). However, non-native Phragmites has stolons that can grow up to 50 feet or more in a season and may be red, also a little red may occasionally be seen on the culms of the introduced lineage but it is usually limited to lower nodes, which may lead to confusion (MNFI 2016, Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). Little black spots are sometimes found on the culms of the native lineage, which are caused by a native fungus that has not yet adapted to the introduced form (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). The culms of the introduced form may have a sooty like mildew but it does not have the distinctive black fungal spots (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). Rhizomes of the native subspecies rarely exceed 15 mm in diameter and are a darker yellow than the introduced lineage (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010).


The ligule of the introduced lineage is typically less than 1 mm (0.4-0.9 mm) in length. Ligules of the native are more than 1 mm (1-1.7 mm) (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). The native Phragmites is less sturdy and therefore its ligule is more likely to shred and fray by midsummer (MNFI 2016).


For the introduced lineage, the upper glume ranges in size from 4.5-7.5 mm, with most being <6 mm and the lower glume ranges in size from 2.5-5.0 mm, most being <4 mm; the native subspecies has an upper glume ranges in size from 5.5-11.5 mm, with most being >6 mm and lower glume is ranges in size from 3.5-6.5 mm, with most being >4 mm (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010).


Introduced Phragmites is typically found in ditches, disturbed sites, and can tolerate saline habitats. In the Great Lakes basin, it is frequently found on shorelines (MNFI 2016). The native lineage is usually found in fens, sedge meadow, river banks and shores, and the Great Lake shores (MNFI 2016).

Growing Seasons:

Introduced Phragmites begins growing earlier in the season and continues later in the fall than does the native lineage (MNFI 2016).

Size: 2 to 6 meters in height

Native Range: Although the specific ephithet australis suggests it is native to Australia, it is believed that Phragmites australis subspe. australis originated from the Middle East (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). It now has a worldwide distribution and is considered native to Europe.

Great Lakes Nonindigenous Occurrences: Introduced Phragmites australis subspe. australis has a worldwide distribution and is abundant in many marsh communities and along the edges of lakes and rivers (Saltonstall 2002). Introduced to the east coast of the United States between late 1700s and early 1800s it has been gradually expanding westward (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). Genetic studies indicate that population of the introduced lineage probably come from Eurasia (Saltontstall 2002). Establishment and distribution have been correlated with human disturbances (Saltonstall 2002). Currently, it exists in all 49 mainland states in the United States, including Alaska (Klein 2011), as well as throughout southern portions of six Canadian provinces and is considered to be an indicator of wetland disturbance (Saltonstall 2002). In the United States it is most abundant along the Atlantic Coast and northeastern wetlands, however Midwest populations of Phragmites australis subsp. australis are escalating (IN DNR 2005). In the Great Lakes basin, it is frequently found on shorelines (MNFI 2016). It is also found throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia (IN DNR 2005). There is concern of range expansion north, because of warming trends due to global warming, which provide increased potential for seedling establishment (Brisson et al. 2008).

Distribution in Michigan is largely coastal with populations concentrated in the southeast and southwest corners of the state. It dominates the Saginaw Bay region, the St. Clair Delta, and to a lesser extent, in the northern tip of the lower peninsula and the eastern end of the upper peninsula (MNFI 2016).

Table 1. Great Lakes region nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state/province, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Phragmites australis australis are found here.

Full list of USGS occurrences

State/ProvinceFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
IL201020102Little Calumet-Galien; Pike-Root
IN201020104Little Calumet-Galien; St. Joseph; St. Joseph; St. Marys
MI1979202129Betsie-Platte; Black-Presque Isle; Boardman-Charlevoix; Brule; Cheboygan; Clinton; Detroit; Fishdam-Sturgeon; Huron; Kalamazoo; Keweenaw Peninsula; Lake Huron; Lake St. Clair; Lake Superior; Lower Grand; Manistee; Manistique River; Muskegon; Ontonagon; Ottawa-Stony; Pigeon-Wiscoggin; Raisin; Shiawassee; St. Clair; St. Joseph; St. Joseph; Thunder Bay; Tittabawassee; Upper Grand
MN200920214Baptism-Brule; Beartrap-Nemadji; Lake Superior; St. Louis
NY1991201211Black; Buffalo-Eighteenmile; Chaumont-Perch; Grass; Irondequoit-Ninemile; Lake Erie; Niagara River; Oak Orchard-Twelvemile; Oneida; Salmon-Sandy; Seneca
OH2004202113Ashtabula-Chagrin; Auglaize; Black-Rocky; Blanchard; Cedar-Portage; Cuyahoga; Grand; Huron-Vermilion; Lake Erie; Lower Maumee; Ottawa-Stony; Sandusky; Tiffin
PA182820101Lake Erie
WI1938202214Bad-Montreal; Beartrap-Nemadji; Door-Kewaunee; Lake Superior; Lake Winnebago; Lower Fox; Manitowoc-Sheboygan; Menominee; Milwaukee; Oconto; Peshtigo; St. Louis; Upper Fox; Wolf

Table last updated 2/27/2023

† Populations may not be currently present.

* HUCs are not listed for areas where the observation(s) cannot be approximated to a HUC (e.g. state centroids or Canadian provinces).

Ecology: Habitat:

Phragmites australis subsp. australis is a hardy species that can survive and proliferate in a wide range of environmental conditions, but prefers the wetland-upland interface (Avers et al. 2014). It grows on most soil textures from fine clay to sandy loams and is somewhat tolerant of saline or alkaline conditions (ISSG 2011) and so it is often found at the upper edges of estuaries and on other wetlands (such as grazing marshes) that are occasionally inundated by the sea. It is most often found on disturbed sites with altered hydrology, sedimentation, and nutrient enrichment. The United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA, NRCS) has designated Phragmites australis to be a 'FACW', which is roughly equivalent to a 75% chance of this plant occurring in wetlands (USDA, NRCS 2016). Phragmites can tolerate anoxic conditions, and high salinity in soils, and a wide range of pH from 3.9-8.6 (Fofonoff et al. 2015). Phragmites can also tolerate a wide range of temperatures, but shoots are killed off by severe frost events (Haslam 1972). Below ground, introduced Phragmites forms a dense network of roots and rhizomes that can extend downward over a meter (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). Along rivers and coastal shorelines, fragments of rhizomes transported from distant infested sites can settle in new spots and become rooted (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). Rhizome fragments may also be moved by heavy machinery (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010).

Age and Growth:

Introduced Phragmites has an average lifetime of 4.5 years, but may live up to 6 years, when longevity is defined as the lifetime of an individual rhizome, but due to its clonal growth abilities, stands have been known to survive for 1000’s of years (Haslam 1972). Vegetative spread by below-ground rhizomes can result in dense stands that have more than 200 shoots/m2 (Haslam 1972).


Introduced Phragmites australis reproduces primarily clonally through the production and fragmentation of underground rhizomes, but is capable of sexual reproduction through seeds (Fofonoff et al. 2015). Phragmites is wind-pollinated; cross pollination with other plants is probably most common, but self-pollination or agamospermy may occur (Gucker 2008). Flowering starts in late July (Fofonoff et al. 2016). Seeds are primarily dispersed by wind in the fall and winter months (Fofonoff et al. 2015, Haslem 1972). However, they can also be transported on birds, or by water, via waterways or by flooding (Haslam 1972). Seed set is highly variable, with germination rates that are typically low (Haslam 1972), though mature plants may produce as many as 2,000 seeds annually (Avers et al. 2014). Some sources have even reported as many as 1000 seeds per every inflorescence (Haslam 1972). Local propagation is largely to be considered achieved through vegetative reproduction with seeds responsible for new colonization events (Mark et al. 1994). Plants growing in harsh environments may not be able to flower, so the only mode of reproduction is vegetative (Haslam 1972). Germination takes place on exposed moist soils in spring, at temperatures above 10 C (March-April) (Fofonoff et al. 2015). Water depths greater than 5 cm (2 in) generally prevent germination (Marks et al. 1994). After germination a rhizome takes 2-4 years to flower for the first time (Haslam 1971).

Means of Introduction: Initial introduction to the United States was likely via solid ballast and/or packing material from shipping (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). Phragmites has been intentionally introduced to some locations as a filter plant in wastewater treatment lagoons and has been used for erosion control and as a tool to stabilize shorelines (IN DNR).

Status: Established

Great Lakes Impacts: Phragmites australis has a high environmental impact in the Great Lakes.


In controlled experiments, the introduced and native lineages of Phragmites australis were found to hybridize, which has the potential to act as a mechanism for further decline of native Phragmites in North America where it comes in contact with introduced stands (Meyerson et al. 2010). It has been posited that low levels of sexual reproduction or differences in phenology were reducing the chances of naturally occurring hybridization between the two P. australis lineages (Saltonstall et al. 2014). However, there are recent studies that show that hybridization does occur in the nature, just at seemingly low levels (Saltonstall et al, 2014). It has been found that both the native and the introduced lineages regularly sexually reproduce and establish via seed dispersal and have extensive flowering time overlap (Brisson et al. 2008, Meyerson et al. 2010, Saltonstall et al. 2014, Wu et al. 2015). This allows for hybridization opportunity.

Recently conclusive evidence for hybridization between the introduced and the more distantly related Gulf Coast lineage was confirmed (Lambertini et al. 2012). A single hybrid clone has also been recently identified at a field site in Seneca Falls, New York (Saltonstall et al. 2014). This hybrid specimen of P. australis subsp. americanus × P. australis subsp. australis is the first to be positively identified in the United States, despite overlap in the geographical distribution, habitat requirements, and phenology of the parental lineages, so has been deemed likely that compatibility between introduced and native lineages is low (Saltonstall et al. 2014). Another hybrid individual was found in the Chesapeake Bay, which has also been identified as the first P. australis subsp. americanus × P. australis subsp. australis hybrid along the Atlantic coastal plain of North America (Wu et al. 2015).

Phragmites has the potential to impact the faunal community.  The leaves and stems of Phragmites have poor nutritional value and few organisms feed on it in North America so replacement of native vegetation by the less nutritious Phragmites could have negative consequences for herbivores (Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative). Bird surveys conducted in tidal wetlands of Connecticut showed that Phragmites-dominated marshes were characterized by a lower diversity of birds than adjacent mixed marshes. However, other studies have shown little difference between Phragmites-dominated marshes and other plant communities in terms of birds’ abundance and diversity (Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative). Larval and Juvenile fish seem to be the most negatively affected by Phragmites (Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative). The species produces an abundant litter which can reduce the mobility of juvenile fish. Currently very little is known about potential impacts of Phragmites on amphibians (Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative).


Phragmites threatens the biodiversity of Michigan’s coastal and interior wetlands. It displaces native species including sedges, rushes, and cattails; and reduces wildlife habitat diversity, resulting in loss of food and shelter for native wildlife (Avers et al. 2010). Reduction and degradation of wetland wildlife habitat is due in part to Phragmites’ dense and prolific growth pattern (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). The introduced common reed forms impenetrable monocultures and is capable of dominating wetlands with its increased canopy height within a few years (Rudrappa 2009). Its success may also be attributed to allelopathy, Phragmites releases gallic acid, which is degraded by ultraviolet light to produce mesoxalic acid, effectively hitting susceptible plants and seedlings with two harmful toxins (Rudrappa 2009). Furthermore, Phragmites alters wetland hydrology through increased evaporation and trapping of sediments, causing marsh soils to dry out (Avers et al. 2010, Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010).

Phragmites australis has a moderate socio-economic impact in the Great Lakes.


Tall, dense stands of the introduced Phragmites impede shore access, as penetration of a stand of introduced Phragmites can not only be difficult but can also result in abrasions from the sharp-edged vegetation (Avers et al. 2010, USFWS 2007). Recreational value for birdwatchers, walkers, naturalists, boaters, and hunters is further diminished through reduction of native fish and wildlife populations (USFWS 2007). Such use impairment and restricted shoreline view also reduce property values (Avers et al. 2010).

In addition to economic impacts, the introduced Phragmites poses a risk to human life and property. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) considers Phragmites to be a safety hazard, as its height and dense growth may block signs and view of access roads, drives, curves, etc. (B. Batt, MDOT, pers. comm.). During its dormant season, when dry biomass is high, the introduced common reed also creates a potentially serious fire hazard to structures (Avers et al. 2010, Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010).

Phragmites australis has a moderate beneficial effect in the Great Lakes.


In Europe, Phragmites is grown commercially and used for thatching, fodder for livestock, and cellulose production (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). In Canada, despite its status as the nation’s “worst” invasive plant species, Phragmites is still found as an ornamental in some garden and landscape designs (MNR 2010).

Phragmites produces various potentially interesting pharmacological compounds, including polysaccharides, anthocyanins, alkaloids (DMT, dimethyltryptamine; Kiviat 2010), but to our knowledge there is no current research focus in this area. Phragmites australis also had some traditional ethnobotanical uses for several Native American tribes (University of Michigan 2016). Phragmites was used medicinally to treat diarrhea, gastrointestinal issues, as an analgesic, as an expectorant, as an emetic, and it was made into a poultice to treat boils (University of Michigan 2016). Several tribes used also used it for building and weaving material from which they made mats, baskets, arrow shafts, flutes and rafts (University of Michigan 2016). It was used as a forage plant; the seeds were eaten in the absence of other foods (University of Michigan 2016). The sugary sap was heated into a ball and dried to be eaten like candy (University of Michigan 2016).


As a wetland plant, Phragmites improves water quality by filtration and nutrient removal (Ailstock 2004). Phragmites provides food and habitat for some organisms and serves to stabilize soils against erosion. Bobolink and sparrows eat its seeds, while numerous insects eat the vegetation. Moreover, many insects, birds (including yellowthroat, marsh wren, salt marsh sparrow, least bittern, red-winged blackbird, and some wading birds), and muskrats use Phragmites as shelter or nest material (Kiviat 2010).

Management: Regulations (pertaining to the Great Lakes region)

Introduced Phragmites australis subsp. australis is not listed as a noxious weed in any U.S. state or Canadian province in the Great Lakes region. Michigan and Wisconsin have listed Phragmites as restricted, with regulations on possession and transport. Permits are needed for Phragmites control in the coastal zone.

Illlinois does not list Phragmites australis on its “Aquatic Life Approved Species List” since some populations are not native to Illinois. However, Illinois DNR does find this species needs to be restricted and finds it inappropriate for import, possession, or culture since it is an invasive species (Illinois DNR, pers. communication). Phragmites australis is not listed in the Illinois Noxious Weed Act or the Illinois Exotic Weed act. However, it is managed across the state in natural areas and at restoration sites (Illinois DNR, pers. communication).

Few control techniques for Phragmites australis subsp. australis are fully effective used alone, and reinvasion is likely when the management strategy is not maintained. Which control methods should be used for a particular site will depend on the current conditions and management goals. Effective control is likely to require multiple treatments using a combination of methods. If a population can be controlled soon after it has established chances of success are much higher because the below-ground rhizome network will not be as extensive. It is often necessary to do repeated treatments for several years to prevent any surviving rhizomes from re-sprouting (Avers et al. 2014).

Check federal, state and local regulations for the most up-to-date information.


At this time no means of biological control are approved in the United States for eradicating Phragmites australis subsp. australis infestations. Literature reveals an abundance of herbivores on P. australis outside North America, particularly in Europe (Tewksbury et al. 2002). Researchers have found 201 species (164 insects, 7 mites, and 30 fungi) associated with P. australis outside North America, and there appear to be several promising biological control candidate species from Europe (Tewksbury et al. 2002). Researchers at Cornell University have been studying several of these insects native to Europe as potential bio-control agents (Blossey 2007, Blossey et al. 2002). Based on the biology and ecology of P. australis in North America European rhizome feeders are being given the highest priority as a biological control agent because it is anticipated that attack of below ground rhizomes will kill aboveground shoots, therefore reducing storage reserves and recovery potential, and disconnecting rhizomes, further reducing the competitive ability of Phragmites (Tewksbury et al. 2002). None are currently an option available to land managers, because some prospective control agents may do greater damage to native lineage of Phragmites than the invasive (Silliman et al. 2014). Other studies have indicated that it is possible to control invasive Phragmites in North America via purposeful livestock grazing and that this method has a high potential to suppress its impact on native plant communities (Silliman et al. 2014).  This is a viable option because livestock can persist over a relatively short time period (i.e., weeks to months) on a Phragmites centered diet without negatively impacting their health (Silliman et al. 2014). While long-term, low intensity grazing by goats and cattle has shown to decrease Phragmites density, it does not impact the root system. In fact, grazing at the wrong time of the year can increase Phragmites stem density (Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative 2015). It is also important to consider and investigate the potential for livestock grazing to impact non-target organisms and ecosystem functions (Silliman et al. 2014).

Mechanical methods must always be used carefully to avoid stimulating growth of Phragmites (Avers et al. 2014). Prescribed burning in combination with herbicide treatment, may be an effective control technique (Saltonstall 2005). Burns should be conducted the year following herbicide treatment, either in late summer (mid-July through August) or winter (January until prior to spring green-up (Avers et al. 2014). Plants should not be burned in the spring or summer before flowering as this may stimulate growth (Getsinger et al. 2007). Some experts suggest that use of fire alone may stimulate rhizome growth and cause the remaining population to become more vigorous (Avers et al. 2014). Burning after herbicide treatment reduces standing dead stem and litter biomass, which may help to encourage germination of native plants in the following growing season (Saltonstall 2005). Burning also makes it easier to locate and re-treat areas of regrowth (Avers et al. 2014).

Mechanical control (e.g., weed whips, mowers, brush hogs, flail mowers, hand cutting) may be effective at slowing the spread of established stands but it unlikely to be successful in eradicating a stand if not used in concert with herbicide application (Saltonstall 2005). Mechanical control should be conducted to minimize soil disruption, which encourages re-sprouting (Avers et al. 2014). Excavation of sediments may be effective at control but if small fragments of root are left in the soil, they may lead to reestablishment. Once an area has been mowed, thatch should be raked, bagged and disposed of in an appropriate location to prevent seed dispersal and to allow sunlight to reach the soil surface (Avers et al. 2014). This allows the native seedbank an advantage in the subsequent growing season. When used in combination, mechanical control should not occur until at least 2 weeks after an herbicide treatment to maximize mobilization of the chemical to the root/rhizome system (Avers et al. 2014). Care should be taken to clean all equipment used for mechanical removal prior to transportation from the treatment site (Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative 2015).

In rare situations, flooding may be used as a tool in combination with herbicide and fire to control Phragmites (Avers et al. 2014). Flooding alone is not considered an effective control even though Phragmites is intolerant of persistent flooding (Avers et al. 2014). Traditional drawdowns producing mudflats in early summer (as used to control other invasives) encourage the growth of Phragmites and should be conducted with extreme caution if Phragmites is present in the surrounding landscape (Avers et al. 2014). Covering cut stems with black plastic removes light and increases temperature which will eventually kill Phragmites below the plastic (Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative 2015). This method has shown effective in small areas that previously received direct sunlight and could be ideal in locations where use of herbicide would impact nearby native plants (Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative 2015).

Areas with large, established, populations of Phragmites are best restored using herbicides. Chemical control is particularly effective when used in combination with prescribed burns (Avers et al. 2014). Chemical techniques need to be carefully applied so that all fragments of a Phragmites stand are killed (Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative 2015). If the entire clone of Phragmites is not killed, then the remaining rhizomes may produce new stems the following year (Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative 2015). It is often necessary to do repeated treatments for several years to prevent any surviving rhizomes from re-sprouting (Avers et al. 2014).

Glyphospate and imazapyr are two broad spectrum herbicides commercially available and known to control Phragmites (Avers et al. 2014). These herbicides are best applied in late summer/early fall after the plant has flowered either as a cut stump treatment or as a foliar spray (Avers at al. 2014). Together, glyphospate and imazapyr were found to be the only herbicides that resulted in greater than 90% biomass reduction of Phragmites australis in controlled mesocosm studies (Chesier et al. 2012). However, it must be noted that these chemicals are nonselective and will impact native plants if they come in contact with the herbicides. It is of the upmost importance to apply these chemicals carefully at the recommended levels. Always read the herbicide label prior to use to determine the appropriate application rate and re-entry times. Improper application of terrestrial formulations in aquatic environments may harm fish and macroinvertebrates and is a violation of federal and state laws. Both herbicides are available in separate formulas for application either on aquatic (wet) or terrestrial (dry) sites (Avers et al. 2014). Glyphosate and imazapyr can be used individually or combined as a control strategy for Phragmites. Visual effects, such as browning or withering of the plants, may not occur for several weeks (Avers et al. 2014).

Imazapyr should be applied to actively growing green foliage after full leaf elongation. If stand has substantial amount of old stem tissue, allow new growth to reach approximately 5 feet tall before treatment. Imazapyr is highly effective on controlling Phragmites as it acts slowly and can remain active in the soil during the following year or more (Aver et al. 2014). Imazapyr may persist actively in the soil for multiple years so it not recommended for treatment in high quality areas with diverse native vegetation (Avers et al. 2014).

Glyphosate should be applied after plants are in full bloom in late summer (Avers et al. 2014). Glyphosate is not as effective as imazapyr, however, it costs less and has good results with follow-up treatment or where water level management is available (Avers et al. 2014).

Hazelton et al. (2014) reviewed Phragmites literature to see where gaps lie in management of this invasive species. This review suggests that (1) management efforts should be shifted towards restoring native plant communities rather than just eradicating Phragmites stands since a healthy native plant community can better withstand Phragmites invasion, (2) management needs to switch to watershed-scale efforts in coastal regions and/or larger management units inland as Phragmites are not restricted to the Great Lakes coast line, and (3) wetlands and watersheds should be ranked to identify ecosystems that would most benefit from Phragmites eradication to insure efforts are best utilized.

For more information on management of invasive Phragmites in the Great Lakes region, plase visit the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative.

Remarks: Recent research suggests that at least 3 types of Phragmites australis are present in the United States (Swearingen and Saltonstall 2010). The North American native type of Phragmites australis has been designated as a separate subspecies: Phragmites australis subsp. americanus. A second genetic type designated as the ‘Gulf’ type is native to Mexico and Central America and cryptogenic to the southern U.S., but it is clearly spreading along the southern tier of states. The Gulf type has been designated as Phragmites australis subsp. berlandieri (Saltonstall and Hauber 2007), but this proposed taxonomy remains unaccepted. The European ‘introduced lineage’, which is the focus of this factsheet, may represent a single or multiple subspecies. This introduced lineage is sometimes designated as Phragmites australis subsp. australis, but this is not an officially recognized subspecies name. Other authors refer to the introduced lineage as haplotype M.

Other synonyms: Phragmites communis Trin., Phragmites communis var. berlandieri (E. Fourn.) Fernald, Phragmites communis ssp. berlandieri (E. Fourn.) Á. Löve & D. Löve, Phragmites communis var. flavescens Custer, Phragmites communis var. genuinus Stuck., Phragmites communis var. hispanicus (Nees) K. Richt., Phragmites communis var. isiacus (Delile) Engl., Phragmites communis var. mauritianus (Kunth) Baker, Phragmites communis ssp. maximus (Forssk.) Clayton, Phragmites communis var. variegatus Hitchc. ex L.H. Bailey, Phragmites dioicus Hack. ex Conert, Phragmites dioicus Hack. ex Hicken, Phragmites fissifolius Steud., Phragmites hispanicus Nees, Phragmites isiacus (Delile) Kunth, Phragmites martinicensis Trin. ex Steud., Phragmites mauritianus Kunth, Phragmites maximus (Forssk.) Chiov., Phragmites maximus var. berlandieri (E. Fourn.) Moldenke, Phragmites maximus var. variegatus (Hitchc. ex L.H. Bailey) Moldenke, Phragmites occidentalis Trin. ex Steud., Phragmites phragmites (L.) Speg., Phragmites phragmites (L.) H. Karst., Phragmites vulgaris (Lam.) Crép., Phragmites vulgaris Britton, Sterns & Poggenb., Phragmites vulgaris var. mauritianus (Kunth) T. Durand & Schinz, Phragmites vulgaris ssp. maximus (Forssk.) Chiov., Reimaria diffusa Spreng., Trichoon phragmites (L.) Rendle

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Author: Sturtevant, R., A. Fusaro, W. Conard, S. Iott, and L. Wishah

Contributing Agencies:

Revision Date: 9/10/2021

Citation for this information:
Sturtevant, R., A. Fusaro, W. Conard, S. Iott, and L. Wishah, 2023, Phragmites australis australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud.: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI,, Revision Date: 9/10/2021, Access Date: 3/25/2023

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.