Native and exotic haplotypes exist in North America. They can be tricky to distinguish. The range of native Phragmites does not include North Carolina, only the exotic haplotype is found in our State. It has spread into wetland habitats throughout the Coastal Plain. Once established it forms dense monotypic colonies that exclude native species. Phragmites colonies decrease biodiversity, degrading the habitat and decreases the wetlands’ capacity to function effectively. This plant is dispersed by both seeds and rhizome fragments.
Phragmites can grow as tall as 15’. Its bluish-green leaves (6" - 24” long and 0.5" – 2” wide) are hairless and taper to a point; they are arranged alternately along the stem. The stems are cane-like. Phragmites is a perennial grass; new growth arises from the rhizomes each spring. The stems and leaves are green in the growing season and become tan in the winter. The stems produce a plume of gray to purple inflorescence (5" – 16”) from mid-Summer through Fall.
Locally, there are well-established Phragmites populations in North Carolina but generally isolated to the Coastal Plain. Several of the populations that are on public lands are under intense management by State Agencies, including a Phragmites removal project at Carolina Beach State Park near Wilmington, NC. By 2018 that project had successfully removed nearly all of the Phragmites colonies found within Carolina Beach State Park through intense herbicide and fire control methods. One last colony (~10 acres in size) remains and that area was treated with herbicide in 2018 by an aerial application. Other populations under management are located at Goose Creek S.P., Ft. Fisher S.P., Jockeys Ridge S.P. and Pettigrew S.P.
Fact Sheet: Common Reed
Identification, History, and Management: Paul E. Hosier - The Ecology of an Unwelcome Exotic, Phragmites australis
Photo credits (from left to right): Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org; Richard Old, XID Services, Inc., Bugwood.org
Photo credits: Rob Emens, Aquatic Weed Control Program, NC Division of Water Resources.