Comments: Phragmites is especially common in alkaline and brackish (slightly saline) environments (Haslam 1972, 1971b), and can also thrive in highly acidic wetlands (Rawinski, pers. comm. 1985). However, Phragmites does not require, nor even prefer these habitats to freshwater areas. Its growth is greater in fresh water but it may be outcompeted in these areas by other species that cannot tolerate brackish, alkaline or acidic waters. It is often found in association with other wetland plants including species from the following genera: Spartina, Carex, Nymphaea, Typha, Glyceria, Juncus, Myrica, Triglochin, Calamagrostis, Galium, and Phalaris (Howard et al. 1978).
Phragmites occurs in disturbed areas as well as pristine sites. It is especially common along railroad tracks, roadside ditches, and piles of dredge spoil, wherever even slight depressions hold water (Ricciuti 1983). Penko (pers. comm. 1993) has observed stunted Phragmites growing on acidic tailings (Ph 2.9) from an abandoned copper mine in Vermont. Various types of human manipulation and/or disturbance are thought to promote Phragmites (Roman et al. 1984). For example, restriction of the tidal inundation of a marsh may result in a lowering of the water table, which may in turn favor Phragmites. Likewise, sedimentation may promote the spread of Phragmites by elevating a marsh's substrate surface and effectively reducing the frequency of tidal inundation (Klockner, pers. comm. 1985).
A number of explanations have been proposed to account for the recent dramatic increases in Phragmites populations in the northeastern and Great Lakes States. As noted above, habitat manipulations and disturbances caused by humans are thought to have a role. In some areas Phragmites may also have been promoted by the increases in soil salinity which result when de- icing salt washes off roads and into nearby ditches and wetlands (McNabb and Batterson 1991). On the other hand, bare patches of road sand washed into ditches and wetlands may be of greater importance. Phragmites seeds are shed from November through January and so may be among the first propagules to reach these sites. If the seeds germinate and become established the young plants will usually persist for at least two years in a small, rather inconspicuous stage, resembling many other grasses. Later, perhaps after the input of nutrients, they may take off and assume the tall growth form that makes the species easily identifiable . Increases in soil nutrient concentrations, may come from runoff from farms and urban areas. It has also been suggested increases in nutrient concentrations, especially nitrates, are primarily responsible for increases in Phragmites populations. Ironically, eutrophication and increases in nitrate levels are sometimes blamed for the decline of Phragmites populations in Europe (Den Hartog et al. 1989).