Phragmites Basics: Intro

Photo credit: Mandy Jansen

Phragmites australis (Frag-MY-teez) is a tall, perennial wetland grass found worldwide in wetlands, ditches, shorelines, and roadsides. (see Where is it found?) In the Great Lakes region, you can find two main types of Phragmites. Native Phragmites has been common to the Great Lakes region for centuries; however, a European strain of Phragmites (haplotype M) was introduced along the Atlantic coast approximately 200 years ago. This type is an aggressive invader that has been spreading rapidly across the continent, and has become a recognized threat to the ecological health of the wetlands of the Great Lakes region. (see Native vs. Invasive)

Invasive Phramites stands are typically quite dense. Photo credit: Erik Hazelton

Stands of native Phragmites can vary in size and density, but generally grow within the broader mosaic of native wetland vegetation.  The non-native strain, however, can establish extensive, dense stands as the plants spread rapidly via root (rhizome) expansion and the distribution of seeds. (see How does it spread?) Because of the height (up to 15 ft /4.5 m) and density (up to 60 stems per square foot / .1 square meters) of non-native Phragmites, native vegetation is often displaced from areas where the invasive strain has colonized. (see Ecological Impacts)

Phragmites is often referred to by its genus name, which is used in place of its full scientific name, Phragmites australis (Cavanilles) Trinius ex Steudel. The species is also commonly known as European common reed, canegrass, and giant reedgrass.



Phragmites basics:

  • grows up to 15 feet tall (4.5 meters)
  • able to spread over 10 feet per year (3 meters)
  • can negatively affect the biodiversity and ecological functions of invaded habitats
  • can impair recreational use and reduce property values by limiting water access and reducing views
  • forms dense stands of dry plant material that can become a fire hazard

Phragmites invasion

What can be done?

  • Preventing the introduction and spread of non-native Phragmites is the best way to address this serious threat.
  • Keep an eye out for early infestations of non-native Phragmites, and manage them quickly before they become well established.
  • Even well-established populations of Phragmites can be managed, though they require a significant investment of time, labor, and resources.
  • Check out the Management tab for more information on techniques and technology that can help you in your efforts.
More information about what to do can be found throughout the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative website. Explore the website, participate in webinars, and contact others in your region who are also working on Phragmites projects.