Common reed, Phagmites australis, like giant reed. is also a member of the grass family though characteristically found in wetter sites than cane. It is one of the few plants that grows throughout most of the world. Large stands are found in the Delta of the Danube near the Black Sea. In North America, the same species has developed especially aggressive races that are destroying some natural wetlands. Common reed is frequent throughout the Middle East. Reaching a height of 4m, it is a hardy plant of marshes though not as vigorous as giant cane.
Jeremiah 51:31-32 is a graphic description of battles in Babylon, a city located along rivers with marshes. "One courier follows another and messenger follows messenger to announce to the king of Babylon that his entire city is captured, the river crossings seized, the marshes set on fire and the soldiers terrified." The word marshes in the NIV is agam. Babylon's marshes may have been dominated by common reed which forms dense stands along rivers and in oases.
One such oasis is the famed Azraq Oasis in Jordan which has suffered from reckless draining in recent years. Further damage has been incurred by the removal of water for the city of Amman. The permanent lakes at Azraq made it the largest oasis within thousands of square kilometers of desert. With a lowering of the water table, common reed invaded and today forms the dominant vegetation in the vastly reduced oasis which, ironically, must be maintained by pumping water into the oasis.
March 19 was a bright, still day when I visited Azraq Oasis with other biologists. Concerned about the overwhelming dominance of Phragmites that crowded out other more desirable species and lowered diversity of plants and animals, we surveyed the area and then left for the Azraq Preserve office on a low hill overlooking the marsh. Suddenly the sky was filled with billows of black smoke from the marsh. The stand of common reed was ablaze. Rushing to the fire we were rebuffed by the roar and heat. As the reed burns, water vapor builds up in the stem causing a popping sound. Imagine the soldiers at the margin of the marsh in Jeremiah 51 terrified as the marsh burns out of control!