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Common reed (Not recommended)

Common reed is an aggressive grass that is considered invasive in many areas.  Planting is not recommended.  Common reed (Phragmites australis) is found world wide and is comprised of two subspecies.  There is a native subspecies (P. australis subsp. americanus) and a non-native subspecies (P. australis subsp. australis).  While the non-native subspecies has become a problem in many areas, the native subspecies plays an important role in wetland habitats and should be conserved.  The native subspecies has a wide native range, it is relatively uncommon in some areas.  There are some visual differences between the two subspecies:

Non-Native:   Green or tan stems covered by tightly clinging leaf sheaths; blue green foliage, forms dense colonies and may grow as tall as 20 feet; flower clusters/seed heads  usually larger and more dense than the native.


Native:   Lower leaf sheaths fall off and exposed stem turns red in sunlight; yellow green foliage; grows more as scattered stems and usually shorter (6-8 feet); flower cluster/seed heads usually smaller and more open than the non-native.

The rest of this page will concern only the non-native species which is a plant of concern and considered invasive in many areas.

Botanical name:

Phragmites australis

All Common Names:

Common reed

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Grass

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Size Range:

  • Large plant (more than 24 inches)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9,
  • Zone 10

Soil Preference:

  • Wet soil


  • Wet sites,
  • Occasional flooding,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Clay soil,
  • Road salt

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Purple

Shape or Form:

  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Fast

More Information:

Size and Form

Common reed is an aggressive spreader and can form large colonies that crowd out native plants.  It can grow up to 20 feet tall.

Plant Care

Not recommended for planting.

Native geographic location and habitat

World wide distribution.

Leaf description

Leaves somewhat blue-green in color; 1/2 to 1 inch wide and up to 1 foot long.  Held on thick stems.  The green or tan stems are covered by tightly clinging leaf sheaths.

Flower description

Flowering occurs in late summer.  Tiny flowers in upright, dense clusters.  They have a purplish cast to them.

Fruit description

The small fruit (caryopsis or grains) form along the dense clusters that held the flowers; beige or brown in color.

Location of Phragmites australis (Common reed (Not recommended)) at the Arboretum

We do not seem to have this in our living collection.