Phragmites mauritianus (PROTA)
|Geographic coverage Africa|
|Geographic coverage World|
|Carbohydrate / starch|
|Essential oil / exudate|
|Forage / feed|
Phragmites mauritianus Kunth
- Protologue: Révis. Gramin. 1: 227, t. 50 (1830).
- Family: Poaceae (Gramineae)
- Chromosome number: 2n = 48, 79, 80, 81
- Phragmites communis Trin. var. mauritianus (Kunth) Baker (1877),
- Phragmites pungens Hack. (1901).
- Reed grass, lowveld reed, spear reed (En).
- Roseau, roseau à feuilles piquantes (Fr).
- Caniço (Po).
- Gugumua, mtete (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Phragmites mauritianus is distributed in Central, East and southern Africa, with a northern limit through Ethiopia, Sudan, DR Congo, Congo and Gabon, and in Madagascar and the Mascarene islands. It is also recorded along the Nile in Sudan and Egypt.
The stems of Phragmites mauritianus are used for thatch and to make walls and partitions in houses, fences, and as insulation material. They are also split and used for plaiting and wickerwork in a similar way as those of Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud., for instance for mats and fish traps. The hollow stems are used as drinking straws.
Young growth is grazed by domestic and wild animals. The rhizomes are eaten, especially in times of famine. Phragmites mauritianus 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.
A decoction of the aerial parts is drunk for the treatment of malaria. Eyes are sprinkled or bathed with leaf sap against conjunctivitis. In Zimbabwe the sharp edges of leaves are rubbed on affected areas to treat sexually transmitted diseases. Pieces of reed are used to insert enemas. The pounded rhizome mixed with salt is used on painful body parts to treat pneumonia. In Tanzania Phragmites mauritianus is used to treat thrush in infants and burns, in South Africa it is used to treat barrenness in women. In Uganda it is used in veterinary medicine for treating retained placenta.
Production and international trade
For several communities living around the Okavanga delta in Botswana harvesting reed (Phragmites mauritianus and Phragmites australis) is a major source of income. High demand and destructive harvesting have led to steep price increases, at least in South Africa.
Phragmites mauritianus is used for similar purposes as Phragmites australis, but details of its properties have not been published.
A robust perennial grass with very long creeping rhizomes and stolons, sometimes floating; stem (culm) (2–)4–8 m tall, up to 4 cm in diameter near the base, 3–9 mm beneath the panicle, many-noded, terete, erect, simple or more rarely branched, glabrous, smooth. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; 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-lanceolate, 15–100 cm × 1–4 cm but often rather short in sterile shoots, expanded or convolute, slightly auriculate at the base, tapering to a fine, pungent apex, rather rigid, glabrous or pilose near the base, scaberulous on both surfaces or at least on the lower, very rarely smooth, scabrous along the edges. Inflorescence an open panicle 15–60 cm × 8–20 cm, rarely larger, usually rather dense, green or tinged with purple, slightly silvery, yellowish or brown at maturity; branches usually bare of spikelets for some distance from the base. Spikelets cuneate, laterally compressed, 7–16 mm long, on filiform pedicel up to 10(–12) mm long, comprising 1 basal sterile floret, 3–11 fertile florets, and reduced florets at the apex; glumes ovate to ovate-oblong, rarely oblong, acute at apex, lower glume 2–4(–6) mm long, upper one 3–5(–6) mm long; lower lemma lanceolate-oblong to oblong, 6–8(–10) mm long, 3-(rarely 5–7)-veined; the following one fertile, narrowly lanceolate, 6–11 mm long, 1–3-veined, callus 0.5–1 mm long with hairs 5–7 mm long; palea 2–6 mm long; anthers 3 (2 in sterile floret), c. 2 mm long; ovary glabrous, with 2 stigmas. Fruit a caryopsis (grain) with elliptical hilum.
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. Phragmites mauritianus is most closely related to Phragmites frutescens H.Scholz from the eastern Mediterranean. The latter may represents a group of isolated, perhaps relictual, populations of Phragmites mauritianus. Clones of Phragmites australis from the Gulf Coast of the United States show close resemblance to Phragmites mauritianus in leaf characteristics.
Phragmites mauritianus is vigorous and fast growing. In undisturbed places in Lake Victoria accumulated dry phytomass reached 64 t/ha, of which about 70% above-ground and 30% below-ground. The growth rate after cutting was about 30 t/ha of dry matter in a period of 4 months.
Phragmites mauritianus is common along rivers, lakes and dams and in swamps, floodplains and vleis, often growing partially submerged. It occurs at altitudes of 580–1500 m.
Stands along rivers are very dynamic. Observations in Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga, South Africa indicated that propagation by seed must play an important role in the establishment of new colonies, especially when reeds colonize the previously un-vegetated edges of new active channels. These new patches would then expand by clonal growth. Destruction of reed patches by flooding, wave action, herbivores or prolonged drought contribute to the dynamics of the vegetation.
In the Okavanga delta in Botswana Phragmites mauritianus is preferred to Phragmites australis for harvesting. It is more common than the latter, taller and more productive. In Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, South Africa, harvesting the reedbeds in Fuyeni causes a decrease in average reed size through the removal of large reeds: in uncut areas 66% of the total reed density consists of large reeds, in cut areas only 15%. Reed regeneration after cutting is rapid, but the proportion of large reeds remains low. Harvest of no more than 30% of the large reeds is recommended and a given area should not be harvested more frequently than biennially to allow young shoots to mature into large, usable reeds.
Phragmites mauritianus is often grown in natural or constructed water-clearing wetlands. In swamps bordering Lake Victoria, sludge effluent from water treatment plants had little negative effect on the productivity of Phragmites mauritianus. It seems less suitable to clear paper-mill effluents, because they contain compounds that are not easily biodegradable.
Phragmites mauritianus is widespread and locally dominant. It is not in danger of genetic erosion except where it is heavily harvested or grazed. Phragmites mauritianus is not represented in germplasm collections and no breeding or selection work is known.
Phragmites mauritianus will remain an important source of thatch and construction material. Its role in water clearing is likely to increase and deserves more research attention. The taxonomy of Phragmites and the distribution of its species also need research attention.
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- 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 mauritianus Kunth. [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 6 March 2020.
- See the Prota4U database.