Wednesday, January 14, 2015

uses for phragmites

Phragmites (pronounced "frag-my-tees", here commonly called "frag") is a fast growing perennial wetland grass native to Eurasia and Africa that is now established throughout the world including my own region of southern Ontario, Canada. Phragmites thrives in roadside ditches as pictured here near Limehouse, Ontario and along waterways and freshwater coasts. Here it is considered an invasive pest with no uses, to be eradicated if possible. But it does have uses.

(click on pics to enlarge) I was surprised to learn that phragmites stalks are very desirable materials to be used for roof thatching, to build roofs with a claimed life of 60 to 80 years! Thatched roofs are not at all common in Canada but are used in similar climates in northern Europe (like Finland) where the reed is plentiful.

This excellent video from the COFREEN project, describes the harvesting and use of phragmites for roofing, insulation and heating fuel.

Phragmites australis is known as "water reed", "common reed" or "Norfolk Reed". Knowing these alternate names is important when looking for information about the thatching craft.

In the UK, thatching is described as a growing business with the number of thatchers having increased from about 200 to about 1500 over the past 45 years (see here near the bottom of the page).

In this classic text "The Thatcher's Craft", the specific use of phragmites (as "water reed") is covered in part 7.

In the the Wikipedia entry for phragmites, uses are covered in section 4 including phytoremediation water treatment. Additional uses are as a craft material (for basket and mat making, paper, musical instruments), fences, cattle pens, fishing poles, spears, food (both human and animal) and bee keeping.

The Purdue Crop Index on phragmites gives additional uses for cattle grazing, as feedstock for rayon and board making, "a fine fibrous material suitable as a filler in upholstery", rope making, partitions and brooms. Food and folk medicine uses are also described.

Use of chopped, freshly harvested phragmites for biogas production with the by-product (sludge) spread on farmland in Sweden is described in this book.

Phragmites is harvested and sold commercially in China, presumably for roofing.

When you have lemons, make lemonade!

Thank you for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

Update April 7 2015: Phrag seen in healthy patches along my route to southern Ontario. These shots of phragmities are near Pearson Airport, Toronto. Along the west Dixie Road side.
I have not seen any of the ultra tall variety yet.

8 comments:

George Plhak said...

Tree-free paper might be another possible use for frag. See http://caboopaper.com/
Australia based, make paper products from sugarcane and bamboo.

George Plhak said...

A Canadian example from Nova Scotia:
http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/98469-interest-grows-in-thatched-roofs and
http://www.thestar.com/life/homes/2014/10/04/fear_phragmites_but_they_can_be_useful_the_real_dirt.html

George Plhak said...

Interesting about phrag as food (under "edible uses"):
http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Phragmites+australis

George Plhak said...

From Montreal, about Technofrag, Inc: Le phragmite, redécouvert pour ses vertus ("Phragmites, rediscovered for its virtues" about fuel pellet making http://www.hebdosregionaux.ca/monteregie/2011/02/02/le-phragmite-redecouvert-pour-ses-vertus

George Plhak said...

Oxford Journals AoB Plants "Ecosystem services of Phragmites in North America with emphasis on habitat functions
http://aobpla.oxfordjournals.org/content/5/plt008.full

George Plhak said...

Some background on the fight against phragmites in my area:
http://www.ffwdm.com/blog/phrag-fight.pdf
published in MNBP Feb 2015 newsletter

George Plhak said...

Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative on Phrag for fuel:
http://greatlakesphragmites.net/blog/weedy-grasses-as-pellet-fuel-feedstock-research-update/

Oydman said...

This plant grows well in SE Michigan as well. Easily collected with a sharp sickle, especially in winter when the (typically marshy) ground is frozen. I've experimented with reed as thatching and it really works. Wear gloves -- seasoned stalks are very sharp and will slice up your hands!