History in the United States
Burma reed was first introduced into the United States in 1916 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, possibly to investigate its potential as an ornamental plant. It was grown in a test garden in Coconut Grove, Florida, from which it escaped and spread. By 1990, it had become established in the wild as far as 30 miles from Coconut Grove and along disturbed edges throughout Miami-Dade County. Burma reed has no known economic value and, in Bhutan, is reported to be poisonous to buffalo.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Global Range: The native range of N. reynaudiana is Asian extending from Japan across China, Malaya and Burma to eastern India (Bor 1960). In Florida it is now documented only for Dade (including Virginia Key and Key Biscayne) and Collier counties, but it has escaped and apparently persisted for some time as far north as Sebring (Highlands Co: Deam #63942, US) and was cultivated in the Florida Botanical Garden there ( now part of Highlands Hammock State Park). It is ubiquitous in south Miami (it is documented from the Deering Estate (Guala in press) and is probably in every park in Dade Co.) and has spread from an introduction at the USDA Plant Introduction Station in Coconut Grove in the early 1920's across the Everglades although it is not common away from the main roads and is quite uncommon in the northern part of the park system (it is known from Seminole and Royal Palm State Park but not Corkscrew Swamp).
Distribution in the United States
Burma reed is found throughout southern Florida in the counties of Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Lee, and Collier, and the Florida Keys.
Silk reed is a tall, perennial, large-plumed grass  that grows in dense clumps from a woody rhizome [20,39]. Stems and flowering stalks may reach a height of 3 to 15 feet (1-5 m) depending on soil and moisture conditions. Each clump produces an average of 40 stalks with 12 to 20 terminal panicles that may be up to 3 feet (1 m) long, each bearing hundreds of flowers . It is not clear how deep silk reed roots penetrate in the soil, though one source reports that roots are "deep" .
Burma reed, also known as silk reed, cane grass, and false reed, is a tall, perennial, large-plumed grass that grows in clumps in sunny upland areas. Stems, including the flower stalks are from 3 to 15 feet in height, depending on soil and moisture conditions. The leaves are 8 to 10 inches long and hairless, except for a single line of horizontal hairs at the juncture of the upper and lower portions of the leaf. Stems are approximately ½ inch in width, are round, solid, and have nodes (stem-leaf junctures) every 3 to 5 inches along the stem. The flower plumes, which can be up to 3 feet long, are composed of many hundreds of tiny flowers and have a shimmery, silky appearance. Flowering occurs in April and October, each clump producing an average of forty stalks and twelve to twenty flowering plumes. Burma reed resembles several other tall grasses, including common reed (Phragmites communis), giant reed (Arundo donax), pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) and sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum).
Neyraudia is easily identified as the only large "plume grass" with a distinct horizontal line of hairs on the otherwise hairless outer surface of the leaf blade/sheath juncture (look especially at green younger leaves). Erianthus giganteus might be confused with Neyraudia because it is densely hairy in a small area around the juncture of the blade and sheath but there is not distinct line and it has paired, single flowered spikelets with much longer awns (cf. 1 cm).
Catalog Number: US 101972
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Status verified from secondary sources
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): F. J. F. Meyen
Locality: Cap. Syng-moon., China, Asia-Temperate
- Possible isotype: Janowski, M. 1921. Repert. Spec. Nov. Regni Veg. 17: 86.
Comments: It is remarkably tolerant with respect to edaphic and light regimes although it seems to prefer open, high light, areas. It has often been collected in marshy areas, possibly even of brackish water (H. Moldenke #432, US), and it is very common in upland situations and is becoming increasingly common in dry pinelands. The only thing that most of the localities seem to have in common is some disturbance. This is especially true in drier situations and the disturbance can be anything from bulldozing to fire. This range of habitats is comparable to that in its native range (Lazarides 1980).
A weed identification guide suggests silk reed tolerates a wide range of soil, light, and water regimes . Several sources report that it prefers open, sunny, dry sites with some disturbance [10,19,20]. In its native range, silk reed is found in bogs and disturbed sites, often growing on infertile soils . In Florida, silk reed establishes in disturbed areas [10,20,25,40] including the edges of roadways, fields, and forests , vacant lots , and limestone spoil piles .
Soils: As of this writing (2010) it is not clear what soil characteristics silk reed prefers. One manager described silk reed as a colonizer of sandy soils . Soils of the pine rocklands where silk reed is invasive are usually moderately well drained, with limestone bedrock at or very near the surface. Soils generally consist of small accumulations of sand, marl, and organic material in depressions and crevices in the rock surface .
Silk reed is tolerant of extreme soil conditions. In Hong Kong, it was a dominant of the few plants established on the peripheries of treatment lagoons 2 years after the deposition of a coal ash-seawater slurry. Substrate conditions were alkaline (pH 8.4), saline (2.18 dS/m), contained high levels of heavy metals, and surface temperatures reached 113 °F (45 °C) in summer . One source suggests that silk reed may occur in areas with brackish water in Florida .
Elevation: In its native range, silk reed grows from 0 to 6,500 feet (0-1,900 m) .
Climate: Silk reed generally occurs in a warm, subtropical climate in its native range, similar to the climate where it occurs in North America. Its ability to survive at high elevations (6,500 feet (1,900 m)) in its native range suggests that it may possess some level of cold tolerance, potentially facilitating its spread farther north in North America . Guala  observed that a transplanted silk reed rhizome fragment sprouted, grew rapidly, and set fruit after exposure to a series of light spring frosts followed by a hard frost. After a severe freeze the following December, the aboveground vegetation died but the plant sprouted "vigorously" within 2 months .
Habitat in the United States
In its native range, which is characterized by a warm, subtropical climate, Burma reed occurs in bogs, in open savannahs, on upland cliffs, and along forest and road edges, and thrives from sea level to altitudes of 6,500 feet. In the U.S., Burma reed initially colonizes the margins of roadways, fields, and forests, from which it can spread to undisturbed areas. The ability of Burma reed to survive at high altitudes in its native range indicates a tolerance to cold and the potential for it to spread further north in the U.S.
Habitat & Distribution
As stated above, disturbance probably plays a major role in its introduction into an area, however, once it invades an area and establishes a population it seems to be able to colonize more marginal and also undisturbed habitats. Although it is known only from the southern counties in Florida, it has been cultivated as far north as Savannah, Georgia and a rhizome segment transplanted to Gainesville in March of 1989 grew rapidly and set fruit even after several light frosts and 1 hard one. In the severe Christmas freeze of 1989 the above ground parts died but the plants are vigorously resprouting (Feb. 1990) and will be monitored for recovery. The specific origin of our ecotype is unknown but I have seen healthy specimens of this species from the eastern Himalayas (2000 m) and other regions of China that are quite prone to hard freezes. It occurred as a waif in San Francisco in 1861 but is not now present in the US outside of Florida.
Fuels and Fire Regimes
Fuels: Silk reed has the potential to alter the amount and type of fuels in plant communities where it occurs. It establishes in dense, tall clumps  and produces a heavy mat of leaf litter from shed stems and inflorescences . In South Florida slash pine savannas, silk reed grew 3 to 7 feet (1-2 m) above surrounding vegetation. Total plant biomass in areas dominated by silk reed was more than 4 times the biomass of areas lacking silk reed (P=0.01). Litter depth was almost double in areas with silk reed compared to areas without it (P=0.01) .
Silk reed also alters the type of fuels available. Silk reed litter facilitates fire spread and movement at the ground's surface. Inflorescences may act as a ladder fuel, allowing fire to spread into tree canopies; one manager reports silk reed ignition during wildfire creating flames >30 feet (9 m) high, threatening nearby tree canopies. Wind may transport flaming silk reed inflorescences, increasing the potential for fire spread .
Fire exclusion and silk reed establishment have both altered the typical fire regime of pine rocklands. Fire is integral to maintaining pine rocklands; historically, low-severity fires occurred every 3 to 10 years , consuming litter and understory vegetation. Fire exclusion has led to the lengthening of fire-return intervals, facilitating hardwood species establishment and litter accumulation. In some areas, pine rocklands are replaced by a tropical hammock plant community within 2 to 3 decades of fire exclusion . In pine rocklands where silk reed establishes, the alteration of fuel characteristics by silk reed has promoted an increase in the frequency and intensity of fires, leading to abnormally high South Florida slash pine mortality . Managers observed 75% mortality of mid-canopy South Florida slash pine following a mixed-severity prescribed fire in a park with dense stands of silk reed . There is also concern that silk reed establishment may alter fire-return intervals and plant community composition in Florida scrub plant communities, ecosystems with longer fire-return intervals than pine rocklands . See the Fire Regime Table for more information on fire regimes of vegetation communities in which silk reed may occur.
A weed identification guide  and a flora  report that silk reed has a short, woody rhizome, while one source describes rhizomes as "extensive and robust" . New clumps of silk reed may emerge from rhizomes embedded in sand, soil, or rubble . Silk reed may sprout from rhizomes following frost , fire [25,26], and mechanical or chemical treatments .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Fire Regime Table
Seedling establishment and plant growth
Life History and Behavior
The extensive and robust rhizome system allows it to survive cutting and heavy disturbance. George Gann-Matzen has seen extirpated populations reappear even after two years but he cannot confirm that this was due to a residual seed bank.
The size of the plants of this species seems to give an indication of the age of the population. Young plants (<2yrs) are often app. 1 m high while older, well established populations almost always have many of the individuals reaching 2.5 m or more.
Biology and Spread
Burma reed reproduces by seed and through underground stems called rhizomes. Burma reed plants flower twice each year, producing hundreds of thousands of tiny seeds that are dispersed by the wind. New clumps of Burma reed emerge from rhizomes that may be embedded in sand, soil, or rubble. Seeds and rhizomes are also transported inadvertently in limestone rock from infested quarries that is carried by train from Miami-Dade County, Florida to concrete manufacturers throughout the southeastern United States. This unintentional movement of Burma reed material allows it to invade new sites in Florida and and adjacent states near limestone distribution centers.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Neyraudia reynaudiana
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Neyraudia reynaudiana
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked
Management Requirements: A comprehensive management plan for this species in the southern three counties of Florida. A high priority should go to testing alternative herbicides and eradication methods. Further work should also be done on determining seed production, viability and longevity.
George Gann-Matzen of ECOHORIZONS, INC. reports that a 90% kill rate can be achieved by cutting culms with a steel bladed weed eater, allowing resprouting to 6-8 inches and applying ROUNDUP. He recommends that remaining plants be removed by hand and that the site be monitored for at least two years. He also suggests that the cut culms be removed in pineland situations so as not to add nutrients to the soil and hence, make a more suitable environment for other exotics. Robert Doreen (Everglades National Park, Resource Management) has not found the method described above to be adequate and is going to begin experimenting with other herbicides soon. Terry and Barbara Glancy (private land owners in Homestead) report that by applying ROUNDUP at 1% with a surfactant (IMPROVE or the cheaper brand FRIGAT) at 1%, without cutting the culms, a 100% kill rate can be achieved. He recommends removing the flower heads if they are present though. This is the best method described so far but more research is needed. It would seem that a wick application of ROUNDUP might be reasonable course of action especially in areas in which small native herbs are still persisting within the population. Cutting or mowing alone clearly does not work. Fire alone doesn't work (I have seen burned stalks resprout) and may even compound the problem by introducing disturbance. Mechanical removal may work if done by hand but bulldozing may also compound the problem due to the ability of the grass to resprout from rhizome segments.
Management Programs: No comprehensive programs directed specifically at this species are in effect.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
As of this writing (2010) no information is available regarding the importance of silk reed to wildlife and livestock in North America.
Palatability and/or nutritional value: Silk reed is reported as poisonous to buffalo in Bhutan .
Cover value: No information is available on this topic.
Stewardship Overview: This invasion is still in a stage in which I believe that it can be controlled with a comprehensive eradication program which would primarily include removal of the biggest and oldest core populations in Dade Co., especially in the southern suburbs, and a concerted control effort in other areas.
Species Impact: This species presents a clear threat to native ecosystems in southern Florida including those preserved in several county, state and national parks. It is already a serious problem in Dade county and will no doubt become one in Collier and Monroe counties in the near future.
Ecological Threat in the United States
Burma reed damages native ecosystems by crowding and shading out understory plant species and by creating conditions for extremely hot and destructive wildfires. In southern Florida (Miami-Dade County), it is a serious threat to the globally imperiled pine rocklands community whose pine canopy was largely destroyed in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew. Burma reed is a highly combustible fuel source because of its overall plant mass, its large feathery flower plumes, and the dense, hay-like leaf litter it produces. This hay-like litter enhances the fire's movement along the ground, while the flower plumes carry the flames high into the air. With the aid of winds, these plumes often detach and fly through the air like torches, providing the potential for additional spread. Photographs of its ignition during a wildfire show flames leaping over 30 feet high, threatening nearby tree canopies.
Neyraudia reynaudiana, commonly known as Burma reed, silk reed, cane grass, or false reed, is a tall, perennial, large-plumed grass native to subtropical Asia, but invasive in southern Florida in the United States.
The stems of Burma reed, with flower stalks, are from 3 to 15 feet (0.91 to 4.57 m) tall, depending on soil and moisture conditions. The leaves are 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) long and hairless, except for a single line of horizontal hairs at the juncture of the upper and lower portions of the leaf. Stems are approximately 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) wide, round, solid, and have nodes (stem-leaf junctures) every 3 to 5 inches (7.6 to 12.7 cm) along the stem. The flower plumes, which can be up to 3 feet (0.91 m) long, are composed of many hundreds of tiny flowers and have a shimmery, silky appearance. Flowering occurs in April and October in south Florida, each clump producing an average of forty stalks and twelve to twenty flowering plumes. Burma reed resembles several other tall grasses, including common reed (Phragmites communis), giant reed (Arundo donax), pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) and sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum).
Biology and spread
Burma reed reproduces by seed and through underground stems called rhizomes. Burma reed plants flower twice each year, producing hundreds of thousands of tiny seeds that are dispersed by the wind. New clumps of Burma reed emerge from rhizomes that may be embedded in sand, soil, or rubble.
Burma reed is widely distributed in warm, subtropical habitats in Southeast Asia and Indomalaya, including portions of Japan, southern China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaya, Myanmar (Burma), Bhutan, Nepal, and eastern India. It occurs in bogs, in open savannahs, on upland cliffs, and along forest and road edges, and from sea level to altitudes of 6,500 feet (2,000 m).
Range in the United States
Burma reed was first introduced into the United States in 1916 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, possibly to investigate its potential as an ornamental plant. It was grown in a test garden in Coconut Grove, Florida, from which it escaped and spread. It is now found throughout southern Florida in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Lee, and Collier counties, and in the Florida Keys. It initially colonizes the margins of roadways, fields, and forests, from which it can spread to undisturbed areas. The ability of Burma reed to survive at high altitudes in its native range indicates a tolerance to cold and the potential for it to spread further north in the U.S. Seeds and rhizomes are also transported inadvertently in limestone rock from infested quarries that is carried by train from Miami-Dade County to concrete manufacturers throughout the southeastern United States. This unintentional movement of Burma reed material may allow it to invade new sites in Florida and adjacent states near limestone distribution centers.
Burma reed damages native Florida ecosystems by crowding and shading out understory plant species and by creating conditions for extremely hot and destructive wildfires. In southern Florida, in Miami-Dade County, including Everglades National Park, it is a serious threat to the globally imperiled pine rocklands community whose pine canopy was largely destroyed in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew. Burma reed is a highly combustible fuel source because of its high overall plant mass, its large feathery flower plumes, and its production of dense, hay-like leaf litter. This litter enhances fire movement along the ground, while the flower plumes carry the flames high into the air. With the aid of winds, these plumes often detach and fly through the air like torches, providing the potential for additional spread. Photographs of its ignition during a wildfire show flames leaping over 30 feet (9.1 m) high, threatening nearby tree canopies.
Restoration of sites infested with Burma reed requires a long term commitment to ensure effective control and to allow native vegetation to become established. Burma reed's deep roots make mechanical removal an extremely labor-intensive and costly undertaking and causes extensive disturbance to the soil. A more effective management approach involves a combination of cutting or prescribed burning, followed by application of herbicides. After cutting, mowing or burning Burma reed plants down to the ground, a systemic herbicide like glyphosate, mixed with an acidic surfactant, can be applied to prevent new growth. Repeat treatment is likely to be necessary for a couple of years, until seed and rhizome stores are exhausted.
A successful burn of Burma reed reduces the plant's massive stalks to ash, eliminating the cost of vegetation removal. Conveniently, because Burma reed is the first plant to resprout following a fire, it can be sprayed freely with little concern about non-target kills. Burning by itself, whether through prescribed or natural wildfires, may enhance the growth and spread of Burma reed if not followed up with chemical or mechanical control.
In areas where Burma reed is dispersed among desirable native vegetation, individual plants can be cut at the base using a steel blade or string trimmer and the remaining portions sprayed with herbicide to prevent new growth. Resprouts should be treated with a second herbicide application to the new growth. This method requires highly qualified applicators who can target the herbicide to avoid damage to native plants, and may not be cost effective for extensive infestations.
The material in this article was adapted from the public domain information from the Plant Conservation Alliance, Alien Plant Working Group.
- Bor, N.L. 1960. The Grasses of Burma, Ceylon, India and Pakistan. Pergamon Press, New York, 767 pp.
- Gordon, D.R. and K.P. Thomas. 1997. Florida’s invasion by non-indigenous plants: history, screening, and regulation. In Simberloff, D., D.C. Schmitz, and T.C. Brown (eds.), Strangers in Paradise: Impact and Management of Nonindigenous Species in Florida. Island Press, Washington, DC. 467 pp.
- Guala, Jr., G.F. 1990. Element Stewardship Abstract for Neyraudia reynaudiana. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA. 5 pp.
- Hammer, R.L. 1998. Wildland Weeds. Summer 1998. Vol. 1, No. 3, p. 9.
- Langeland, K.A. and K. Craddock Burks, Eds. 1998. Invasive Non-native Plants of Florida’s Natural Areas. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council.
- Lazarides, M. 1980. The Tropical Grasses of Southeast Asia. J. Cramer, Vaduz. 225 pp.
- Maguire J. 1993. Status of Burma reed in Dade County pine rocklands. Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council Newsletter
- Noltie, H.J. 1998. Flora of Bhutan. Volume 3. Publisher Royal Botanic Garden Publications,. Edinburgh (scheduled for publication in 1999)
- Schmitz, D.C., D. Simberloff, R.H. Hofstetter, W. Haller, and D. Sutton. 1997. The ecological impacts of nonindigenous plants. In Simberloff, D., D.C. Schmitz, and T.C. Brown (eds.), Strangers in Paradise: Impact and Management of Nonindigenous Species in Florida. Island Press, Washington, DC. 467 pp.
- The Nature Conservancy. Neyraudia reynaudiana: Element Stewardship Abstract. In: Wildland Weeds Management & Research Program, Weeds on the Web.
This is an ornamental and soil-retaining grass.
Names and Taxonomy
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