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POACEAE Phragmites

Species listing:  
Phragmites [genus]  

P. australis  
Synonyms: Phragmites communis
Trin., Phragmites communis L.,
Phragmites phragmites (L.) Karst.,
Phragmites vulgaris Druce, Arundo
phragmites L.

P. mauritianus  

POACEAE Phragmites


Phragmites [genus] Trin. POACEAE

Common names: Reed (Hortus)

Worldwide; 4 spp. Per. reeds. Leaf blades broad, flat, linear. Panicles large, terminal, plume-like, spikelets several-fld., pedicelled, the rachilla clothed with long silky hairs, disarticulating above the glumes and between the florets, lowest floret male or neuter, the florets successively smaller, the summit of all about equal (Hortus Third 1976: 865) Monotypic. Phragmites is made into screens & mats in Eu. because it is abundant far beyond the range of the only European Saccharum [Poaceae]. In India use any species of Saccharum in preference to Phragmites. Need rigidity for screens, toughness is secondary. Phragmites reeds are softer, more hollow than those of Saccharum. Saccharum prefers sandy soil, and is esp. suited to sandy banks of rivers that change course. More constant rivers deposit mud, and Saccharum is displaced by Phragmites (Burkill 1966: Vol. 2 page 1957) Reed is a term applied to several kinds of large water-loving grasses. Others include Ammophila, Gynerium, Calamagrostis, Arundo; Arundo is the largest Eu. grass. In other orders, burr-reed, Sparganium, and reed-mace, Typha, both in Typhaceae; and bulrushes, Scirpus, in Cyperaceae (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1893: Reed)

POACEAE Phragmites australis


Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. POACEAE

Synonyms: Phragmites communis Trin., Phragmites communis L., Phragmites phragmites (L.) Karst., Phragmites vulgaris Druce, Arundo phragmites L.

Common names: Common Reed, Carrizo (Hortus) Reed, Nal, Danube Grass (Mabberley) Teufelbiss (Willis) Tebu salah (Burkill) Roseau Cane (de la Cruz) Hajna (Abbas) Cane (Berlin) Bennels (Sturtevant) Pichula, Gaz (Moore: the Veiled Prophet)

Cosmopolitan. Stems erect to 19 ft., rhizomatous, often also stoloniferous. Leaf blades to 2" wide. Infl. tawny or purplish, spikelets to 0.8" long, hairs of the rachilla longer than florets. Marshes, wet places. Used in latticework (Hortus Third 1976: 865) P. communis: Forms floating fens at the Danube mouth. Creeping rhizome, dense panicle of spikelets. The lowest flower of the spikelet is male, the others bisexual. A few cm above the leaf-sheath are three transverse dents in the leaf, Teufelbiss, due to the pressure when the rolled-up blade is still in the sheaths of older lvs. (Willis 1973: 890) P. communis: Throughout temp. & warm parts of the world; throughout Malaya. Reed of water margins. Stems tough enough to use for matting, prob. so used in ancient Egypt. Still used in some regions, incl. part of the Dutch Indies. NW Himalaya, plaited into sandals. Used for thatching in some places. Rumpf said where bamboos could not be obtained, Phragmites stems were used instead to make the ribs of ataps for roofing. Infl. made into brooms in Philippines, Indochina, though Thysanolaena makes better brooms. Makes first-class paper, but difficult to bleach. Contains almost 48% cellulose, fibers average 2 mm long. Pens were made from the culms in ancient Egypt, still so made in India. Animals will eat the young foliage, but when old it is coarse. One case of cattle-poisoning in India was attrib. to it; doubtful. In WW I fodder was made from it in Eu., also other prods. V. tender buds can be used as a salad; used by Chinese in Indochina. Tender sprouts medicinal among the Chinese: dried, exported from China to pharmacies in the Straits Settlements. Rhizome also used medicinally by Chinese, contains 5% sugar. Medicinal agent if any is not ID (Burkill 1966: Vol. 2 page 1745). For paper, ranks after Themedia, Saccharum, Eulaliopsis, but better than Arundo (Burkill 1966: Vol. 1 page 262) P. vulgaris: In trop. W Africa, sections of the hollow jointed stem are widely used for pipe stems, flutes, mouthpieces of the Hausa algaita, etc. Also made into a kind of rattle. Stems used for arrow-shafts, roofing & sides of huts, palisades, or split to make matting & screens. Not a fodder grass; Fulani regard it is injurious to cattle (Dalziel 1948: 540) In most nonagrarian societies of recent times, the cutting of reeds and rushes require some sort of blade. The relative abundance of sickle blades at Abu Hureyra in eastern Syria, 11,500 to 11,000 BP, is therefore unlikely to bear any relationship to cereal harvesting - until they started to cultivate (Moore, Hillman and Legge 2000:351) Charred culm nodes of the common reed, Phragmites australis, are present in almost all deposits and were probably gathered as thatching and to provide loose floor coverings, just as they are today. The harvesting of reeds [Phragmites, and Schoenoplectus Cyperaceae] and rushes [Juncus Juncaceae] was doubtless a function of the sickle blades found in the deposits. Today, the standard harvesting tool is a reed hook, which resembles a small sickle with a strongly recrved blade. An almost identical tool has recently been recovered from the Bronze Age reed-swamp settlement of Shinewater in southern England (Moore, Hillman and Legge 2000:365). P. communis: V. ancient plant, found in Miocene beds, Tertiary Period, 30 million years ago. Now worldwide except for S S Am. and Iceland. Many uses to this day: thatching, fencing, basketwork, firewood, fishing rods, weavers' spools, mouthpieces for musical instruments. Ma'dan tribe in the vast marshlands of S Iraq at the head of the Persian Gulf: make family huts and cathedral-like buildings. Young tender shoots for cattle feed, a favorite food of pelt animals (e) in the marsh. Roots as a diuretic medicine. Roots prevent soil erosion along coastlines. Good assimilators of waste effluents, economic potential for tertiary sewage treatment. Among the most productive vascular plants in brackish & fresh water marshes. Shoot prod. about 2.5 kg/ m2/ year. Principal vegetation of 190,000 ha. of natural wetlands, irrigated high marshes and floating islands in the Danube Delta in Rumania. Many local uses. Used comm. for cellulose to make paper, other prods. Danube Delta Institute at Tulcea has developed & built machinery for large-scale processing of pulp. A plant at Braila processes 125,000 tons raw reed a year. Yields 60% unbleached pulp; mixed with wood pulp to incr. tear strength & density of paper. Mechanical harvesters bundle reeds, take to central areas, taken to Braila by barge. Factory pays $85./ ton, use gov't subsidy to provide employment to the delta region. However with incr. acreage, better machinery, could be profitable without subsidy. Reed swamps & floating islands, 90,000 ha. potentially available. Higher ground which could be used for agric. crops., grazing lands or poplar [Populus, Salicaceae] forests, but also could be artificially flooded June-Oct., harvest Nov. to early spring when water is drained (de la Cruz 1978: 46) Reeds grow more rapidly than most plants. The floating fens at the mouth of the Danube are harvested, used for paper, cellophane, cardboard, synthetic textiles, fiber-board, fuel, alcohol, insulation, fertilizer. Grains were eaten by N Am. Indians. Young shoots eaten by Japanese. Lvs. used for durma mats in India (Mabberley 1998: 550) Phragmites binds the soil and so impedes denudation. Actually converts swamp into dry land; its tall close-set stems break the currents of water around them and cause deposition of sediments. They themselves also contribute annually to the incipient soil (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1893: Reed) In Bahrain, whole plant as a drink, a coolant and anti-emetic (Abbas, El-Oqlah & Mahasneh 1992) Could be used in NW Botswana to take the exploitive pressure off Hyphaene petersiana [Palmae] lvs. in making baskets for comm. sale (Cunningham & Milton 1987) Arundo p.: In the Ladakh plateau in the Himalayas, 3,000-5,000 m. Stewart 1869 reported it was used as fodder and to make baskets. Not mentioned as used, in recent reports (Bhattacharyya 1991) P. communis: In Majorca reeds from the rice fields were made into paper. Used only reeds to make a wonderfully tough brown paper, just what Fairchild needed for his plant dryers. 1800 hectares of reeds grew in waste land around the plantation. Even with the cheap labor, harvesting the reed was costly so the paper was v. expensive to make; need to make better quality paper to be worth it. Land unsuited to any other culture (Fairchild 1930) Reed in the Bible may have ref. to Phragmites; the common marsh reed beside rivers etc. The Hebrew word means either 'hollow stalk that holds water', or 'flowing together like water'. In Egypt & Palestine grows 12 ft. high, dense silky head of fls. at the top like a plume, purple, lustrous. Many Asians use it to decorate their houses. It was used to make pens for writing, and stems were a measuring device. Job 40:15-22; Ez. 40:3 (Walker 1957) Probably Kuwait Bay always had a fishing village, for the waters teem with good fish. The area has no wood. There the old reed canoe still survived in 1938, one of the most primitive forms of boat. It is nothing but a bundle of reeds tied at both ends. The fishermen go out in all weathers; their crafts, though frail, are unsinkable. They can never break up as long as the few lashings hold together. They sometimes carry a mast 3-4 ft. high, on which the fisherman spreads a pocket-handkerchief of a sail when he wants to run home (Villiers 1952: 87) Guest houses built by the marsh dwellers of Iraq are built only of giant reeds, yet are waterproof in the heaviest rains. (Ripley 13th 1967) In Peru 1778: Sayán is a village at the head of the valley of Huauro, upstream from Lima. All the buildings are made of reed-grass, plastered with mud inside and out (Ruiz 1998: 189) The Reed hath written of old the rede which Allah decreed. (Arabian Nights, Tale of Ghanim bin Ayyub) Reed pens are still used in the Near East, collected along the Persian Gulf. They are better adapted for the ink & paper in use there than other kinds of pens. Small & hard, the size of a swan's quill. Prepared by leaving under dung heaps for several months, acquire a mixed black & yellow color, a hard surface, and the pith has dried up in the heat (Encyclopedia Americana. 1954: Pen) The Panpipe was an ancient wind instrument, the precourser of the organ. Made of 7, 8, or 9 short hollow reeds, fixed together with wax, cut in graduated lengths to make a musical scale. The upper ends where they were played were on a level, the lower ends closed (Encyclopedia Americana. 1954: Panpipe) Gerarde: In Spain they make an angling cane for fishers. Roots stamped small draw forth thorns and splinters in any part of the body. Stamped with vinegar they ease luxions and members out of joint, heal hot and sharp inflammations. Ashes mixed with vinegar help the scales and scurf of the head, and falling of the hair (Woodward 1969) P. phragmites: Formerly plentiful along the Rio Grande near the Tewa villages in AZ, now all gone. Was used for making arrows, game-sticks for the cañute game, etc. (Robbins, Harrington & Freire-Marries 1916) In AZ roasted stalks & seeds eaten by Hispanics (Ford 1975) P. communis: In CA, abundant in cane-like thickets in many wet areas below 5,000 ft. throughout Cahuilla territory. In mts. often to thatch houses. Barrows 1900: stems soaked in water, bark easily removed, a layer of soft, silky yellowish-brown fibers. These are twisted into a beautiful and v. strong cordage. Cordage used in weaving carrying nets, hammocks for babies. Culm 5-10 ft. high, used for arrow shafts, head usually of mesquite [Prosopis, Leguminosae] or greasewood [Adenostoma, Rosaceae or Sarcobatus, Chenopodiaceae] inserted in the hollow reed. Also for a flute, usually played by men. Splints for broken limbs (Bean & Saubel 1972) P. communis: In W US roots eaten raw, roasted or boiled like potatoes. Young shoots & lvs. may be boiled as a potherb [?]. Make an excellent pickle from the young shoots not exposed to light, just above the root. Seeds quite nutritious, may be dried & ground into flour, or boiled whole, hull & all [?]. Eastern Indians made a confection from the sweet young stem: shoots gathered before blooming, dried, ground into flour. Sift out the coarse fibers, mix with water to make a thick sweet starchy dough. Baked or roasted, then eaten. Stems hollow or pithy. SW Indians used reeds for arrow shafts, prayer sticks, weaving-rods, mats, screens, pipe-stems, cordage, nets, thatching; in some areas also for fishing poles (Kirk 1970) P. communis: Native & abundant in S Canada through Mexico to Chile, Argentina, some of the W Indies; common in Eu., Asia, Africa, Australia. In Yuc. a vendor sold the scaly rhizome, said to boil it, take decoction to expel kidney stones. Has long been used as a diuretic & sudorific in Germany, Italy. Rhizome contains silicic acid and up to 5% sugar. Young shoots, immature lvs., rootstocks, seeds have all served as food. After insect attack an edible, sweet, manna-like gum exudes from the stem. Mature grass burned, young shoots grazed by cattle, horses, water buffalo. Indians in SW US, trop. Am. have used stems as lattice for adobe huts, for arrow shafts, sacks, mats, thatching, etc. Similar uses worldwide. Hollow sections used in Cent. Am. to make fireworks (Morton 1981: Vol. 1 page 38) P. communis: In Yuc. frequent in low swampy places. Plants to 4 m tall, form dense clumps. Prob. the halal of the Motul Dict., used by Indians for arrow-shafts (Standley 1930: 207) P. communis: Not incl. here; the large firm culms appear woody during the season but do not persist (Standley 1920: 65) P. communis: Fr. Baegert 1751-68 saw natives in Baja eat the roots of the common reed just as they came out of the water. Durand & Hilgard 1876: Indians of the Tejon Valley extract sugar from this grass. Also sweet gum exuding from the stalks is collected by Indians, made into balls which are eaten at pleasure (Sturtevant 1972: 430) In Chis. often to 4 cm diam., colonies often over 3 m tall. Normally wild, but in the hot country of Tenejapa, Tzeltal may cult. them near houses in moist areas. Used mainly as a support for thatching in roofing houses. Also for siding in wattle & daub construction. In cold areas, halal is a major interior support in mud-walled houses. Also used as side stays for baskets, and for flutes (Berlin, Breedlove & Raven 1974: 424) Tzeltal make baskets with the vertical staves always of Smilax [Smilacaceae], and the horizontal webbing of Phragmites, Chusquea, Merostachys or Lasiacis (Berlin, Breedlove & Raven 1974: 131) P. communis: Tarahumar made sleeping mats of Dasylirion [Agavaceae], Nolina [Agavaceae], Arundo [Poaceae], Phragmites and Sabal [Palmae]. Tarahumar doctors use a sucking tube made from small sections of this reed (Pennington 1963) After the Conquest, the Spanish consumer's market accelerated a purely Indian prod. of zacate, used to feed officers' horses. Two kinds of fodder: maize stalks and lake reeds, called zacate. Zacate planted & harvested by Indians, depended on a canoe commerce. Developed in the lake towns close to Mexico City, such as Mexicalzingo, Culhuacan, Ixtapalpa. Colonial ordinances restricted zacate prod. to Indians, like most such were ineffective. (Gibson) Taxcal or taxcali is a small crate or hen coop or a kind of basket, commonly of reeds, which millers use to carry tortillas for sale (Santamaría 1978: Taxcal) Esteras or mats in Peru & Ecuador, usually of Scirpus [Cyperaceae], but in a few places also of carrizo, Phragmites. The most common material for baskets in both countries is carrizo; small baskets often of other grasses, sedges [Cyperaceae], rushes [Juncaceae], palms [Palmae] (Heiser 1978: 228) The earliest traces of this sp. in N Am. come from 40,000-year-old sloth dung in the SW US. Cores from the E Coast marshes indicate that Phragmites grew in mixed communities of wetland spp., not the all-Phragmites blankets that are now common. In the 1970s, botanists became alarmed after seeing how extensively the sp. pushed into new territory and formed dense patches that crowded out other plants. Kristin Saltonstall of Yale U analyzed genes from lvs. of P. australis collected worldwide. A strain now common in the US has close relatives among Eurasian strains. It was rare among Phragmites collected before 1910, but dominates recent collections: 61% of samples collected after 1960 (Science News 2002: 118) P. communis: In US, EPA requires secondary treatment before water is discharged. New technology required: must be less energy intensive, more efficient, cost effective. This sp. used in a new wastewater treatment system developed at NASA's National Space Technology Lab in Mississippi. Eichhornia [Pontederiaceae] has also been used successfully in the S. Phragmites is the most widespread of emergent aquatic plants, can tolerate a pH spread of 2.8 to 8.5; prefers salinity below 10 ppt, but can tolerate 40 ppt for short periods. Potential for removing up to 1600 kg/ ha nitrogen, 150 kg/ ha phosphorus if both above and below-ground growth is considered. In the US biomass est. prod. of 6.5 to 40.0 thousand kg/ ha.; more if below-ground prod. also considered. Here used 24 hrs. in a settling tank, then 24 hrs. in rocks with/ without reeds planted. Settling tank removed suspended solids to below the EPA limit of 30 mg/l. The Biochemical Oxygen Demand, BOD5, was 81 mg/l, not reduced by rock filter. Anaerobic filter planted with reeds; in 6 hrs. had BOD of 9 mg/l, after 24 hrs. had 3 mg/l. Other nutrients also greatly reduced by the reed filter. More water evaporated from the reed filter also. This concept also has potential as a lightweight compact wastewater system in space stations (Wolverton 1982: 376) Alex Wiedenhoeft, at the Center for Wood Anatomy Research in Madison WI is called ‘the wood detective’. A UW archaeology team consulted him about remains of a spear shaft found at a level dated 5,000 years old. It wasn’t wood, but come from a reed or other tough plant stem. The team had been thinking the spears were ceremonial, not weapons (Science News 2002: 185) Marsyas was the Phrygian flute-player who challenged Apollo; he used a flute that Athena had thrown away, filled with the breath of the goddess, so played excellent music. When Apollo won, Marsyas was flayed alive. From his blood arose the river called Marsyas. Reeds grew on the banks of the Marsyas R. The Dorian mode of music, used in worship of Apollo, was performed on lutes; the Phrygian mode used in the rites of Cybele was performed on reed flutes. The Greeks preferred the Dorian mode, so they said Apollo won the contest (Brewer 1978: Marsyas) Shakespeare, Macbeth: the ravelled sleave of care. Sleave, the tangled raw edge of woven articles. Saxon slae, a weaver's reed, still ref. to a weaver's slaie (Brewer 1978: Sleave) Midas was the judge of a musical contest between Apollo & Pan, awarded Pan the prize. Apollo in anger turned his ears into those of an ass. Kept his ears covered, but his barber had to know. The barber didn't dare tell anyone, so he dug a hole and whispered into it. Reeds grew from the soil, whispered the secret when the wind blew (World Book Encyclopedia. 1965: Midas) Syrinx in ancient mythology was a nymph beloved by Pan. She ran from him, turned into reeds. So Pan made his pipes from these reeds (Encyclopedia Americana. 1954: Syrinx) Sumerian myth: Enki: He called the marshland, stocked it with suhurhi-fish and suhur-fish [both carp]. He called the canebrake, stocked it with full-grown reeds and green reeds. He crossed to the kur Meluhha [a city], Enki, the king of the Abzu, decrees its fate. Your reeds will be large reeds, they will be reeds of the kur, heroes work them as weapons in the battle-fields. (Kramer & Maier 1989) In India made dark javelins of Khathacan reeds in ancient times. Persians used Pichula [not ID] for arrows, called Gaz in Persia. The hero Isfendiar had a shaft made of this. (Moore, The Veiled Prophet) Ácatl was the thirteenth of the 20 Nahuatl day-signs. In codices pictured as a bundle of arrows or canes held in a bow by leather straps. The Maya equivalent day was Ben, Zapotec was Quij. (Muser) In Egyptian Osirian religion, the afterworld below the western horizon, the Field of Reeds, reached by a magical boat. Fields farmed by the dead grew great harvests, the grain reaching high above the head (Leach 1972: Field of Reeds). Acatlaxqui was an Otomí dance of the reed-throwers, held at Pahuatlán, Pue. about St. Catherine's Day, Nov. 25, also elsewhere. Each of the 10 dancers carries a strong reed 2 ft. long, with a dozen slender reeds attached so they arch upward when the dancers make their cast at the climax of the dance (Leach 1972: Acatlaxqui) Valid species & most synonyms; P. phragmites and P. communis L. not in GRIN; (GRIN 2006)

Phragmites australis ssp. altissimus (Benth.) W. D. Clayt.

Medit. To 19 ft. Panicles nodding, to 16 ft. long, spikelets large, glumes 3-toothed (Hortus Third 1976: 865) Taxon not in GRIN (GRIN 2006)

Common names:

Phragmites karka (Retz.) Trin. POACEAE

Common names: Tropical Reed (Bodner)

Range not given. Native in Luzon, N Philippines. Bontoc use lvs. as pond-field fertilizer. Stems used as whistles during periods of mourning, also by children as toys. Woven for hut walls (Bodner & Gereau 1988) P. communis: When v. well grown as in the tropics, has been called P. karka, not really distinct (Burkill 1966: Vol. 2 page 1745). Valid species (GRIN 2006)

POACEAE Phragmites mauritianus


Phragmites mauritianus . POACEAE

Common names: Reed Grass (Weiss)

Range not given. In E Africa a per. grass in moist situations. To 4 m. Mature stems may be several cm diam. Swahili use them as filling in fences, screens around homesteads, interior partitions (Weiss 1979: 44) Name not in GRIN (GRIN 2006)


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