Phragmites australis

Common Reed

Botanical description: Phragmites australis typifies the spontaneous urban flora better than any plant, with the exception of Ailanthus. Vilified for ruining pristine native habitats, Phragmites has the ability to colonize anthropogenic-altered sites, tolerating a range of pollution and salinity levels that both fresh water and strictly-salt water plants find challenging. It does not appear to discriminate about habitat and is one of the most widely distributed flowering plants, present on all continents but Antarctica, in all manner of soils. Once established, common reed can form large monocultures, spreading through a dense network of thick rhizomes that can grow to 70 feet in length. It can also spread via seed, produced in great quantities, which is both wind and water dispersed. Flower plumes are clustered on the top of 15 foot tall stalks, with a purple sheen that changes to brown in the autumn and over the course of winter. The shear productivity of the plant has been harnessed to absorb pollutants, from heavy metals to water impurities. Although fields of Phragmites stabilize soil and provide habitat for many birds and animals, large monocultures adversely affect critical sedimentation rates, bird and fish habitat and intricate food webs.