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A discussion of the strength (durability) of thatching reed (Phragmites australis) in relation to habitat. 1995. Reed research report X, Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge. 56 pp. (Annual updates follow.)


Talk about the bad quality of thatching reed has been around for a quarter of a century, and this Report addresses this issue. Unfortunately, some questions remain unanswered. The work would proceed much faster if there was money for DNA and developmental analyses and detailed field work, etc. (and, regrettable though it is to say so, if the (freelance) researcher had ever received any pay or fee).

Both the data and the information here refer to English, most East Anglian, reedbeds except where otherwise cited. There is a vast range of behaviour in Phragmites, and that not found in such reedbeds is mostly omitted for clarity (e.g. behaviour occurring in countries of different climate, in sparse populations, or in deep late ones). All available information relevant to thatching quality, though, is of course included.

The absence of a summary, although perhaps annoying to readers, is by design. Those who have not worked for years on this plant seldom know that its behaviour can be, and is, highly complex, or have much idea of 'how the plant works'. A summary, necessarily omitting this complexity, could therefore continue this misunderstanding. The Report, though, need not be read in its entirety.

Preface and acknowledgements
Requirements for good thatching red
What happens on a roof
Is weak reed a new phenomenon?
Does strength affect the performance of (living) Phragmites?
The seasonal cycle
Weak reed: waste and poor
Reed die-back
Programming reed strength into the plant
The definition and distribution of reed strength
Measuring reed strength by machine
Reed diameter, wall thickness and sheen
Strength in relation to nutrient content and silica skeleton
Aeration and water
How reed resists and undergoes breakdown
Research recommendations for investigating further the how and why of reed strength
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