For those of you who haven’t attempted making arrows using common reed or Phragmites australis may I suggest you give it a try. A selfbow with a pull weight of between 35 and 50 pounds shoots phragmites arrows with amazing accuracy. Interestingly, 90 percent of your phragmites arrows will not need to be sorted for flexibility or what archers call the arrow’s spine weight. You can grow your own phragmites in your yard and thus have a ready access of arrow material when needed. Phragmites arrows will take game up to the size of elk and they are also excellent for backyard practice.
Phragmites grows best in full sunlight and, in fact, the best reed arrows are harvested from exposed areas where the reed shaft can harden and thus develop a thick cuticle. The reeds growing in the photo below are recent transplants to my gray water outlet pond behind the cabin. Within a few days of being planted the rhizomes started to sprout.
Gray Water Pond
Find a locale where phragmites is growing (look along drainage ditches, canals, ponds and other wetland areas) then dig around the base of an individual clump of reeds. You’ll encounter the rhizomes or root complexes within an inch of digging. Carefully cut around a section of rhizomes making sure to protect the smaller and more fragile feeder roots and then place the entire segment into a pot. It’s preferable to collect from five to ten rhizome clumps (or more) in order to insure you’ll have a successful transplanting. You need not include the reed shaft itself. I usually collect rhizomes when I’m out gathering reeds to make into arrows. I’ll slice off the reed with my machete and then collect the rhizome underneath. That means when you plant the rhizome you’ll have a small part of the reeds projecting above the ground. After you extract the rhizome from the ground you must quickly cover it with moist soil. Rhizomes begin drying out almost immediately after being removed from the ground. I cover each rhizome with moist dirt taken directly from the spot where the plant was growing. I always soak the moist dirt with more water when I reach my truck but it doesn’t have to be immersed in water. This insures that the rhizomes are saturated and helps them through the trauma of being taken from the ground.
Phragmites in gray water pond
If you plant your rhizomes in a pot be sure the soil is well drained. I place a layer of sand on the bottom leaving about one-third of the depth at the top with potting soil. I plant the rhizome clump into the potting soil then cover the soil with a layer of mulch to keep the soil damp and protect it from other grasses or herbs that might take hold.
Phragmites growing around your gray water pond will help keep the pond free of herbaceous plants (weeds) and at the same time filter out any impurities in the water. When the phragmites takes hold any odors associated with your gray water pond will all but disappear. Be sure and plant several rhizome clumps around your pond so that the roots creeping underneath will spread evenly. Within a year you will be able to start harvesting arrow shafts.
If you plant phragmites in pots then may I suggest you plant between five and ten 1-5 gallon pots. In this way you can harvest the shafts in consecutive order. In other words, you’ll begin at one end and as needed cut shafts from pot to pot. By the time you finally get back to the first pot the reeds will have grown high enough to produce another round of suitable arrow shafts.
Phragmites stakes to start off grape vines
Phragmites also comes in handy for garden stakes. The stakes above will support the grape vines until ready for transplantation.
I know people who make flutes with phragmites and of course it makes excellent thatch material. When I was a boy I took part in thatching a number of jacales and even a large stone-walled cabin with phragmites. Use your imagination. Your phragmites plantings will serve for a number of projects from arrow shafts to bird houses to flutes to “tricklers.” I’ll post an article on making bird houses with phragmites and some neat tricklers using both phragmites and Arundo donax.
Phragmites reeds drying