Phragmites australis

Common reed, roseau commun, Schilfohre, carrizo, giolcach

I’d read about dyers obtaining a green colour on wool from the common reed, so was naturally eager to give it a try. The past two years I’ve missed a very short flowering season due to high temperatures, but this year managed to harvest some in its second flowering (the weather has been up and down like a yoyo).

On the way to a spot where it grows abundantly (and will need thinning very soon if it’s not to take over the shallows of the artificial lake), I started thinking about greens… Greens from purple… The local variety don’t have purple flowers, maybe a slight tinge, but nothing like I once saw in Englphragmitesand. As a child with a thirst for natural history (is it still called that?) and a small but highly informative collection of nature books, I stood gaping at this tall grass with purple flowers – all very exotic. If memory serves correctly, I took a couple of flowering heads home, but the purple didn’t last. I can’t remember where it was, but have a lot of fond and grateful memories of day trips in to the countryside where there was always a new discovery.

So, back to Australia… some sources say the plant is native, others an introduced species… but it still lacks the purple. Well, at least I’d get a yellow or beige out of it, I was sure.

On the far left, the unmordanted yarn is very close in colour to its mordanted neighbour. The third from the left is mordanted + bicarb modifier – slightly more yellow in real life as was to be expected. On the far right is mordanted + Fe modifier. A useful experiment? Yes, and colours to add to a palette.

4 thoughts on “Phragmites australis

  1. I too have been wondering about this plant! I think I vaguely remember there being a fermentation approach to dyeing with phragmites in some parts of the world… and wouldn’t it be good if I could remember where I read this? I’ll see if I can find it.

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  2. My experience of this has been:
    1) you need to gather the flowers young (they start purple and turn beige: maybe you got to them too late?). Just pull the buds/young flowers; you don’t want leaves
    2) you need to process them right away, as quickly as possible, definitely the same day. That said, it turns out they do freeze perfectly well, so that offers more flexibility
    3) I had been told they produced green dye, and seen it, but lots of people were only able to achieve yellows. I have now tried in both hard water and soft water, and on the hard water they gave me ‘highlighter neon’ yellow (and green on grey yarn) abutnd in soft rain water, I got a soft apple green. This was from plants gathered at the same time and place (but one batch was frozen).
    Hope that helps.

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