Phragmites karka (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
Introduction
List of species


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Phragmites karka (Retz.) Trin. ex Steud.


Protologue: Nomencl. Bot., ed. 2 (Steudel), 2: 324 (1841).
Family: Poaceae (Gramineae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 18, 24, 36, 38, 48

Synonyms

  • Arundo karka Retz. (1786),
  • Phragmites vallatoria (Pluk. ex L.) Veldkamp (1992).

Vernacular names

  • Reed, tropical reed, flute reed, nodding reed (En).
  • Roseau (Fr).
  • Caniço (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Phragmites karka is distributed from Africa through India and South-East Asia to Australia and Oceania. In tropical Africa it occurs from Senegal east to Eritrea and south to Kenya and Uganda; it is also reported from Madagascar.

Uses

The stems of Phragmites karka are used for the same purposes as those of the more common Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud.: for thatching, construction of walls, partitions and fences, and wickerwork for a great variety of purposes, such as mats, baskets, hats, fans, bags and purses. In northern Ghana, for instance, the Bolga baskets of commerce are made from twines plaited with split stems of Phragmites karka. Stems with panicles serve as brooms. The best brooms are made of stems with very young panicles. The stems have been used in water-pipes and to make arrow shafts. In Uganda bird-traps are made from the stems. In Ghana the hollow stems are used for flutes, pipes and whistles, and in Nigeria the stems are used to make mouth-pieces for flutes. In India the stems are a source of pulp for paper making. It is also suitable to make fair-quality board and the chemical solvent furfural.

In Africa and Asia young shoots are eaten, mainly in times of famine. Young shoots also make good fodder. Phragmites karka can be used for soil stabilization, especially along shores of lakes and streams. It is planted in basins and constructed wetlands to treat mainly domestic waste water, but also waste water from industrial sources. Dry stems are used as fuel when better material is not available. Leaves are used as fertilizer for ponds. Variegated forms are planted as ornamental.

In traditional medicine in India, the roots are used to heal broken bones, and the whole plant is used against rheumatic pain. The rhizomes and roots are anti-emetic and diaphoretic and are used for the treatment of diabetes.

Production and international trade

Although Phragmites karka is widely used, no information is available on production and trade.

Properties

Oven-dry reed (stem with inflorescences) of Phragmites karka contains about 55% cellulose (Cross and Bevan method), 23% pentosans, 26% lignin and 3% ash. Pulps suitable for writing and printing paper can be obtained from the reed with the soda or sulphate process, with a bleached pulp yield of about 40%. The fibres in the pulp are (0.5–)1.2(–3.2) mm long and (6.6–)11.6(–19.8) μm wide. Because of the shortness of the fibres Phragmites karka pulps have to be mixed with long-fibre pulps to be used in commercial paper machines.

Several projects in Asia have shown that constructed wetlands with Phragmites karka as one of the component plant species, are very efficient in treating household sewage under tropical conditions and can also remove plant nutrients and heavy metals. In India a constructed wetland with Phragmites karka planted in the last cell and treating conventionally treated distillery effluent, about 50% of the remaining organic matter and nitrogen were removed and 80% of the remaining phosphate.

Description

Robust, erect, strongly tufted, perennial grass with an extensive, creeping, branching rhizome or stolons up to 20 m long; stem (culm) 2–8 m tall and 1.5 cm in diameter, very stout, often woody with hollow internodes and glabrous nodes. Leaves alternate and simple; sheaths longer than the internodes, imbricate and tight at first, later slipping off the stem, dorsally rounded, striate, glabrous or pilose near the mouth; ligule c. 1 mm long, fringed with hairs; blade linear, 20–80 cm × 1–4 cm, base broadened, margin smooth or rough, apex stiff and tapering-acute, glabrous above, scabrid beneath towards the apex, usually with 2–3 shallow depressions. Inflorescence a loose panicle 20–75 cm long with a rather robust central axis and repeatedly branched, thin, rough, erect or nodding branches which are crowded in groups. Spikelets 10–12 mm long, on pedicel 2–10 mm long, 3–7-flowered, rachilla with numerous, thin, white-silvery hairs 4–8 mm long; lowermost floret sterile or male and persistent, succeeding florets bisexual and disarticulating below each fertile floret; glumes boat-shaped, ovate-lanceolate, 3–4.5 mm long, 3(–5)-veined, acute, awnless, upper glume larger than lower one; lemma narrowly elliptical, 7–12 mm long; palea 2.5–3 mm long, scabrid on the veins; stamens 2 or 3; pistil with stipitate ovary, 2 styles with plumose stigmas exserted laterally near the base of the spikelet. Fruit a caryopsis (grain), crowned by the stylar base.

Other botanical information

Phragmites is a cosmopolitan genus of about 4 species, of which 3 occur in tropical Africa. The species are very similar, distinguishing characters overlap and combinations of characters are needed to distinguish the species. The genus is sometimes considered monospecific. Differences between Phragmites karka and Phragmites mauritianus Kunth are sometimes considered too small to consider them separate species; in the Flora of Ethiopia, for instance, all specimens earlier identified as Phragmites mauritianus are included in Phragmites karka. Genetic analysis, however, shows the 4 species as separate groups.

Growth and development

The leaves of Phragmites karka have movable sheaths so that all leaves turn leeward in the wind. In a natural stand in Rajasthan (India) the standing above-ground dry biomass was measured at 4.2–6.7 kg/m², and the underground biomass 0.8–1.2 kg/m²; in a transplanted stand, the above-ground dry biomass was 16.7 kg/m².

Ecology

Phragmites karka occurs in tropical and subtropical regions in fresh-water and brackish marshy or seasonally flooded soils and moist locations, such as river banks and lake shores. It grows in standing and flowing water, usually in clay soils ranging from strongly acid to slightly alkaline. Fulani people in West Africa consider its presence an indication of fertile soil. In shallow waters Phragmites karka can form extensive masses of vegetation which are important feeding and breeding grounds for fish. Tree seeds from the surrounding forest may germinate in these reed masses leading to progressive expansion of the forest into the wetland. Phragmites karka may become a weed in irrigation systems and rice fields.

Propagation and planting

Phragmites karka spreads naturally and can be propagated by division and by seed. A procedure has been developed for the large scale micropropagation of Phragmites karka from axillary buds, with buds from the lower and middle stem giving best results. Multiple shoot formation and root initiation occurred on Murashige and Skoog basal medium supplemented with 0.5 mg/l benzyladenine (BA), 0.5 mg/l kinetin and 2% sucrose.

Management

Phragmites karka tolerates some grazing, but under heavy grazing it is replaced by less palatable species. As a weed it can be controlled by heavy grazing or draining and burning. Burning is tolerated when plants are flooded.

Yield

No information is available on the yield of Phragmites karka in tropical Africa. A uniform stand of Phragmites karka in a constructed wetland system for waste-water treatment in central India produced about 12 kg/m² dry biomass within 1 year, of which about 11 kg/m² was aboveground.

Handling after harvest

Before stems are used as thatch, remaining parts of leaves are removed. The stems may be split before being used for thatching. In Java, Indonesia the stems are sometimes flattened with a hammer, halved, dried and scraped before being used for very coarse wickerwork. Brooms are made by tightly binding the stems to a central piece of bamboo or wood about 2 cm in diameter, with the panicles arranged in a fan-like manner.

Genetic resources

Phragmites karka is widespread and dominant in parts of its habitat; it is not endangered by genetic erosion. A few accessions of Phragmites karka are included in germplasm collections of sugarcane in India.

Breeding

No selection or breeding programmes are known.

Prospects

Phragmites karka and related Phragmites species will probably remain a source of thatch and material for wickerwork; where large stands occur, commercial harvesting may become more important. It is likely that it will also become more important in the biological treatment of sewage and industrial effluents and the stabilization of stream banks and lakeshores. The taxonomy of Phragmites and the distribution of its species also need research attention.

Major references

  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Editors), 2006. Flore analytique du Bénin. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. 1034 pp.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
  • Clayton, W.D., Harman, K.T. & Williamson, H., 2006–. GrassBase - the online world grass flora. [Internet] Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom.http://www.kew.org/ data/grasses-db/. January 2010.
  • Clayton, W.D. & Renvoize, S.A., 1982. Gramineae (part 3). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. pp. 451–898.
  • Clevering, O.A. & Lissner, J., 1999. Taxonomy, chromosome numbers, clonal diversity and population dynamics of Phragmites australis. Aquatic Botany 64: 185–208.
  • Innes, R.R., 1977. A manual of Ghana grasses: with a key to the species by W.D. Clayton. Ministry of Overseas Development, Surbiton, United Kingdom. 265 pp.
  • Lambertini, C., Gustafsson, M.H.G., Frydenberg, J., Lissner, J., Speranza, M. & Brix, H., 2006. A phylogeographic study of the cosmopolitan genus Phragmites (Poaceae) based on AFLPs. Plant Systematics and Evolution 258(3–4): 161–182.
  • Oyen, L.P.A., 2003. Phragmites vallatoria (Pluk. ex L.) J.F. Veldkamp. In: Brink, M. & Escobin, R.P. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 17. Fibre plants. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, the Netherlands. pp. 209–211.
  • Phillips, S., 1995. Poaceae (Gramineae). In: Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 7. Poaceae (Gramineae). The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. 420 pp.
  • van der Zon, A.P.M., 1992. Graminées du Cameroun. Volume 2, Flore. Wageningen Agricultural University Papers 92–1. Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, Netherlands. 557 pp.

Other references

  • Abbiw, D.K., 1990. Useful plants of Ghana: West African uses of wild and cultivated plants. Intermediate Technology Publications, London and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 337 pp.
  • Bhat, R.V. & Virmani, K.C., 1952. Indigenous cellulosic raw materials for the production of pulp, paper, and board. VII. Writing and printing papers from Phragmites karka. Indian Forester 78: 127–137.
  • Billore, S.K., Singh, N., Ram, H.K., Sharma, J.K., Singh, V.P., Nelson, R.M. & Dass, P., 2001. Treatment of a molasses based distillery effluent in a constructed wetland in central India. Water Science & Technology 44(11–12): 441–448.
  • CAB International, 2007. Crop Protection Compendium. Phragmites karka. [Internet] http://www.cabicompendium.org/ cpc/datasheet.asp?CCODE=PHR_KA&COUNTRY=0. January 2010.
  • Cheng, H.S., Yusoff, M.K., Shutes, B., Ho, S.N. & Mansor, M., 2008. Nutrient removal in a pilot and full scale constructed wetland, Putrajaya city, Malaysia. Journal of Environmental Management 88: 307–317.
  • CIAT/FAO, 2002–. Grassland species. [Internet]. CIAT/FAO collaboration on Tropical Forages, Rome, Italy. http://www.fao.org/ ag/AGP/AGPC/doc/gbase/data/ pf000309.htm. September 2009.
  • CSIR, 1969. The wealth of India. A dictionary of Indian raw materials & industrial products. Raw materials. Volume 8: Ph–Re. Publications and Information Directorate, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, India. 394 pp.
  • Gilliland, H.B., 1971. A revised flora of Malaya: an illustrated systematic account of the Malayan flora, including commonly cultivated plants. Vol. 3. Grasses of Malaya. Botanic Gardens, Singapore. pp. 49–51.
  • Kakudidi, E.K., 2004. Cultural and social uses of plants from and around Kibale National Park, Western Uganda. African Journal of Ecology 42: 114–118.
  • Kushwaha, S.P.S., Sharma, K.P. & Gopal, B., 1991. Stand structure and biomass distribution in Phragmites karka populations at Jaipur, India. International Journal of Ecology and Environmental Sciences 17: 55–65.
  • Palaniappan, V.M., 1974. Ecology of tin tailings areas: plant communities and their succession. Journal of Applied Ecology 11: 133–150.
  • Poonawala, I.S., Jana, M.M. & Nadgauda, R.S., 1999. Factors influencing bud break and rooting and mass scale micropropagation of three Phragmites species: P. karka, P. communis and P. australis. Plant Cell Reports 18(7–8): 696–700.
  • Rotkittikhun, P., Kruatrachue, M., Chaiyarat, R., Ngernsansaruay, C., Pokethitiyook, P., Paijitprapaporn, A. & Baker, A.J.M., 2006. Uptake and accumulation of lead by plants from the Bo Ngam lead mine area in Thailand. Environmental Pollution 144: 681–688.
  • Singh, N. & Srivastava, J.K., 2007. Comparison of the ability of two grasses viz., Phragmites karka (Retz.) Trin. ex. Steud. and Vetiveria zizanioides (L.) Nash to improve surface water quality in a constructed wetland. International Journal of Water 3(3): 266–274.

Sources of illustration

  • Oyen, L.P.A., 2003. Phragmites vallatoria (Pluk. ex L.) J.F. Veldkamp. In: Brink, M. & Escobin, R.P. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 17. Fibre plants. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, the Netherlands. pp. 209–211.

Author(s)

  • L.P.A. Oyen, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Oyen, L.P.A., 2011. Phragmites karka (Retz.) Trin. ex Steud. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.

Accessed 11 April 2019.