Text Size: A  A  A


Phragmites australis

Phragmites, Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center
Phragmites, Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center

Phragmites is a non-native, invasive perennial plant with feathery plumes at the top of tall, stiff stalks. It grows in wetlands and along roadsides and shorelines throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.


  • Feathery seed plumes at the top of round, erect stems. Young plants have purplish-brown seed plumes that turn tan or whitish as the plant matures.
  • Sheath-like leaves that grow 2 feet long and taper to a point at the tip
  • Gray-green foliage during the growing season. In autumn, foliage turns brown and most leaves drop off, leaving only the feathery plumes.
  • Can grow to 15 feet tall


  • Grows in fresh and brackish wetlands and along river banks and shorelines
  • Also common in disturbed places such as ditches, roadsides and dredged areas
  • Forms large, dense stands that crowd out other plants


  • Grows throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed
  • Native to Europe and Asia

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Feathery plumes begin to appear in June. By August, they are filled with seeds.
  • Plants cross-pollinate in late August and early September
  • In autumn, phragmites sheds its seeds. Wind and water spread the seeds.
  • By the first frost, the plant’s food reserves move from its leaves to its rhizomes. The leaves die and fall off, leaving only dead brown stems and plumes.
  • Also spreads rapidly by rhizomes. Phragmites rhizomes form a dense underground network that can be several feet deep and spread several feet horizontally in a single season.
  • New seedlings begin to grow in early spring of the next year

Other Facts:

  • Also known as common reed or reed grass
  • Phragmites comes from the Greek word Phragma meaning “fence”
  • Introduced to the United States in the 19th century when ships from Eurasia inadvertently carried phragmites seeds in their ballast
  • There is a type of phragmites that is native to the U.S., but it is very rare
  • Unlike many native wetland plants, phragmites is not a valuable food source for waterfowl

Sources and Additional Information:

Click tabs to swap between type and habitat.

410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
Directions to the Bay Program Office
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
©2012 Chesapeake Bay Program | All Rights Reserved