A tall reed with annual cane-like (round and hollow) stems up to 4 m in height, usually ca 2 m but occasionally less than 1m high. Forms beds with an extensive system of perennial rhizomes. Leaf blades are flat, ca 3-45 mm wide, usually 15-30 mm, tapering to long slender points. Leaves arranged alternately. Leaves are attached to the stem by a smooth sheath, bearing prominent wing-like extensions at the leaf base, with a fringe of fine hairs next to the stem. Flowers borne on a very large, many branched inflorescence 20-60 cm in length and usually purple in colour. Flowers arranged in spikelets, 10-15 mm in length, composed of 1-6 flowers. The small branches between the flowers bear conspicuous long, white silky hairs. The spikelet bears unequal sized scales (glumes) at its base. The lower scale (or casing) of the floret is larger than the upper scale. The flower is composed of a hairless ovary, bearing two scales, with 3 pollen bearing stamens, except in the lowest floret which has 1-3 stamens.Phragmites australis is a characteristic tall reed with a large purple inflorescence, however, accurate identification requires an examination of the structure of the inflorescence and flowers (for details see Haslam, 1972; Stace, 1999). The common reed is harvested primarily for use in thatching in Britain but has numerous uses worldwide (Haslam, 1972). Phragmites australis is the dominant species in reedbeds, a UK BAP habitat, and amongst the most important habitat for birds in the UK such as the bittern, the reed bunting and the marsh harrier (Anon, 1995; Hawke & José, 1996).
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