Phragmites karka

tall reed


Phragmites karka

(Retz.) Trin. ex Steud. 1841

pronounced:frag-MY-teez KAR-kuh

(Poaceae — the grass family)

synonym — Arundo karka

Retz. 1786

pronounced: uh-RUN-doh KAR-kuh

common names: tall reed, pit-pit (New Guinea)

native 4Phragmites comes from the Greek φραγμος (phragmos), a defence, breastwork; karka is possibly from καρκινος (karkinos), a pair of pincers, or καρκινοω (karkinoö), to spread out. Two species of Phragmites are found in the Townsville region, P. karka and P. australis, although for most of their range the two are allopatric, i.e., occur in separate non-overlapping geographical areas, with P. australis found in more temperate areas and P. karka in the tropics. Phragmites karka is found in Africa, tropical Asia, New Guinea, Australia and many of the Pacific Islands. In Australia it occurs mainly north of the 20º parallel of latitude, and also around Lake Eyre in South Australia. Quite a large stand of Phragmites karka has established itself within the Nelly Nay Harbour, across from the mouth of Gustav Creek. It also grows in the Horseshoe Bay lagoon area.

This is a perennial reed, with creeping rhizomes that are often in the water. The culms are erect, reed-like, and can grow from 1 m up to 10 m in height. The linear to broadly lanceolate leaves are cauline, the ligule fringed and hairy; the leaf-blades are 20 – 80 cm long, 1 – 4 cm broad, with a scaberulous surface of raised longitudinal veins.

Here, flowering usually occurs in July and August. The inflorescence is a panicle, oblong and dense, 30 – 50 cm long by 10 – 20 cm wide. The spikelets are pedicelled, the fertile spikelets many-flowered, with at least 2 fertile florets, usually 3–12. The rachis is covered with long silky hairs, and the lemma is glabrous.

In New Guinea pit-pit swamps at elevations to about 1500 m are used for grazing in places where drainage can be provided. The reed is burnt in the dry season and the regrowth grazed at a high stocking rate (25–40 beasts per hectare) so that the cattle graze shoulder-to-shoulder. The regrowth can be grazed 3 or 4 times a season.

Tall Reed can withstand quite heavy floods, and is a good stabilizer of eroding river banks. It is used for thatching and for making mats, baskets, chairs, fences and fish traps. The culms are used for hookah pipes, flutes and pens.

In traditional medicines, preparations made from various parts of the plant are cooling and aphrodisiac, and useful in biliousness, urinary problems, vaginal and uterine complaints, erysipelas and heart disease. The Chinese regard preparations of the rhizomes as cooling and diuretic.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken at Nelly Bay Harbour 2010-2013
Page last updated 11th March 2019