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Wetland Plants and Plant Communities of Minnesota and Wisconsin


(Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin.)

Giant reed grass

GRASS FAMILY (Gramineae or Poaceae)


FIELD CHARACTERISTICS: A tall (2-4 m.), robust, cane-like perennial grass that forms large colonies by rhizomes or stolons. The leaves are flat, pennant-shaped and 1-5 cm. wide. The inflorescence is a large panicle 2-4 dm. long that has a feathery appearance because the spikelets have long, silky hairs. Spikelets have 3-7 flowers. In flower from July to September.

Giant reed grass can be distinguished from wild rice (Zizania aquatica) by the following:

Annual, easy to pull up stem and roots as a unit; spikelets unisexual .............................Zizania aquatica

Perennial, difficult to pull up because of stout rhizomes; spikelets perfect ...............................Phragmites australis

ECOLOGICAL NOTES: Giant reed grass is found in deep and shallow marshes, fresh (wet) meadows, sedge meadows, calcareous fens, coniferous bogs and along lake margins, sometimes in standing water up to 6 feet in depth. Giant reed grass may be the most widely occurring plant of freshwater wetlands worldwide. A synonym is P. communis Trin.

The tall, dense, cane-like stands of this persistent emergent provide excellent winter habitat for species such as white-tailed deer, ring-necked pheasant and eastern cottontail. However, in some parts of the nation, giant reed grass is considered an undesirable plant because of the large monotypic stands it can form. For example, in the lower Minnesota River valley of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, giant reed grass is invading high quality sedge meadow and calcareous fen communities.

SOURCE: Fassett (1957); Fernald (1970); Gleason and Cronquist (1991); and Voss (1972).

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