Common reed is a grass that reaches up to 15 feet in height. The leaves are smooth, stiff and wide with coarse hollow stems. The big, plume-like flower head is grayish-purple when in fruit. Common reed spreads mostly vegetatively forming huge colonies by sprouting new shoots through underground stems. Common reed grows in open wetland habitats and ditches primarily in northern Indiana. It can create pure, impenetrable stands, excluding all other wetland plants. Research by Kristin Saltonstall at Yale University has now confirmed the present-day existence of native North American haplotypes (lineages) and of introduced European haplotypes. (Click on the citation to view the PDF file of Saltonstall's work) Saltonstall, K. 2002. Cryptic invasion by a non-native genotype of Phragmites australis into North America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 99(4): 2445-2449. Some populations are not invasive and may be native; however, distinguishing between the two can be difficult, but identifying characteristics can be found at <http://www.invasiveplants.net/phragmites/morphology.htm>
In 100 Years of Change in the Distribution of Common Indiana Weeds by William and Edith Overlease (2002) reported that common reed was recorded in Indiana in 1899 (Coulter’s Catalogue of Indiana Plants) in Cass, Marshall, and Vigo counties. Coulter stated that common reed was “in swamps and low wet soils in various parts of the state; more abundant northward. In 1940 (Deam’s Flora) it was reported that “this grass is found in we marshes, on mucky borders of lakes and streams, and in springy places in general hence is found mostly in our lake area. More it was once frequent, but it is now rather local on account of drainage”. Common reed was reported in Benton, Fulton, Henry, Howard, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Lake, La Porte, Marshall, Montgomery, Newton, Noble, Porter, St. Joseph, Shelby, Steuben, Tippecanoe, Tipton, Wabash, Warren, White, and Whitely.
In 2002, Overlease observed it locally abundant in the northern tier of counties and locally abundant along roadsides, ditches, and disturbed areas through much of the state. Recent use of heavy road building machinery has aided considerably in its spread. Common reed was reported in the following 56 Indiana counties: Allen, Benton, Boone, Cass, Clark, Clinton, Daviess, Dearborn, DeKalb, Elkhart, Floyd, Fountain, Fulton, Gibson, Grant, Greene, Huntington, Jay, Jefferson, Jennings, Knox, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Lake, La Porte, Lawrence, Marion, Marshall, Martin, Miami, Monroe, Newton, Noble, Owen, Parke, Pike, Porter, Posey, Pulaski, Randolph, Ripley, St. Joseph, Spencer, Starke, Steuben, Sullivan, Tippecanoe, Vanderburgh, Vermillion, Vigo, Wabash, Warren, Warrick, Wayne, Wells, and White.