Plant Guide > Grasses > Reed Grass

Reed Grass


Phragmites communis Trin.

Reed Grass is one of the largest of our native grasses. On the borders of ponds and in marshes it forms tropic-like jungles of stout, leafy sterns that at last bear panicles of violet and purple which change to plumes of silvery white as the blossoms fade.

To brackish marshes along the coast the Reed adds a wonderful beauty as in early autumn the warm light of sunset steals over "A league and a league of marsh-grass."

Tones of deep rose, lavender, and brown, that were unthought of in the light of noontime, are brought out, and panicles of Reed, rising above the tall marsh grasses, seem touched with frosted silver.

This grass blooms in late summer but is not in its greatest beauty until September and October, as the silky hairs clothing the flowers are scarcely perceptible until the spikelets begin to ripen; then the hairs spread widely, and the leafy stems, sometimes more than ten feet tall, are surmounted by feathery panicles which resemble the soft plumes of Pampas Grass and remain until after the first snows.

The Reed, with its long rootstocks, is one of the many plants used by Nature as she slowly changes the land's surface, and transforms swamps and stagnant pools into fertile meadows.

The horizontal rootstocks, spreading far from the stem, form a densely interwoven mat that holds mud and decaying vegetation and so affords a resting place for water-loving plants, which in turn are held and give firmer soil to marsh plants and grasses. Day after day these transformations are in process around us, but so slowly does Nature perform her work that decades pass without appreciable change.

The Old World has demanded more utilitarian service from her plants than we have, and although the Reed is sometimes cultivated in American gardens it is seldom used, as it is in Europe, to cover the roofs of farmhouses and outbuildings with a durable, water-proof thatch.

Reed. Phragmites communis Trin.

Perennial, from stout rootstocks.

Stem 5-15 ft. tall, stout, leafy, erect. Sheaths loose. Ligule a ring of short hairs. Leaves 6'-24' long, 1/2'-2' wide.

Panicle 6'-15' long, pyramidal, many-flowered. Spikelets 3-6-flowered, 5"-8" long, lowest flower often staminate. Outer scales acute, un-equal, flowering scales awl-shaped, pointed, thrice the length of the palet. Rachilla bearing long, silky hairs which equal the flowering scales in length. Stamens 3.

Borders of ponds and rivers, and in coast marshes. July to September.

Throughout the United States and in southern Canada.