Reed, A Herbal Miracle

Among hundreds of vegetable species of the Danube Delta, I insisted only upon reed (Phragmites communis). It deserves to be called an "amazing" plant even though it doesn't belong to the rare or unique botanical species which can ensure the celebrity of an ambitious academician if taken into account. First of all, the 240,000 hectares which it covers in the delta, make up the widest and most compact surface of reed on the planet. Second, if we should rephrase Herodotus' saying that Egypt was a gift of the Nile, we could state that the Delta as a wildlife environment is a gift of the reed. And third, the huge surfaces of reed play a key role in the natural equilibrium of the delta. Biologically speaking, the reed is a true miracle of nature. Its origins as a swamp plant are shown in the impossibility of closing its stomata, even with the airy leaves, which leads to the loss of an important amount of water through perspiration. A blade of cane needs 30 to 50 kg of water a year in order to fully grow, which means that the entire surface of weed from the delta consumes yearly approximately 3-5 billions of cubic meters of water. This tremendous amount of water run by the reed is secured by the huge water reserves of the delta. Without the consistent flow of the river waters, the ever thirsty kingdom of reed could not exist. People in the delta say that the reed has "three lives". And they are not talking about its longevity but about the fact that according to its terrestrial, underwater and airy environment, the plant has three "levels" of metabolism:· the rhizome that grows and withstands an environment that is rich in H2S, CO2, CH4, NO3;· the water root, developed in water with an auspicious chemical composition and· the airy root that needs to grow in the air, not covered by water. Meticulous research has shown that the middle knot contains 83.2% of the amount of cellulose, the knot 8.9% and the other parts of the plant 7.9% of the amount of cellulose.The most productive reed in terms of density, height and percent of cellulose is the one that grows on reed isles (20-30 tons per hectare) because of the more favorable and homogeneous conditions of this life environment.For thousands of years the "green gold" of the Delta has not been capitalized. The reed, plucked by hand, was only being used in order to cover the homes, to build fences and to manufacture fishing gear and vine props and was burned in ovens. Only in 1950 did the state decide to capitalize the precious raw material, when it was obvious on global level that regenerating woods in order to obtain cellulose was no longer satisfying the great demands of the global market.Since Romania possessed the biggest reed reserve in the world, in 1950 people created the first experimental station in Maliuc (mile 25 on the Sulina arm). Two years later, after several experiments, people started to exploit reed industrially on a surface of 4000 ha, obtained by dyking the area of Rusca, placed upstream of the Delta between the Sulina arm and the fishing channel Litcov. Dyking on the left side of the Sulina arm followed, as well as in the entire area of Pardina, of 25,000 ha, between the Chilia arm, Stipoc sandbanks and Chilia. The professor and academician N. Botnariuc, who published in 1960 the book Life in the Delta, supports our description of the reed as being an amazing plant. He writes about this "absolute master" of the Delta: "The young leaves and reed stems can be used as fodder for cows. Dry stems, processed in different ways, can make precious building materials: cello-reed, xylo-reed, reedolite. Stems also provide for cellulose, which is further transformed in textile fibers, paper and raw cardboard. Alcohol is obtained from stem extract. The rhizomes provide for sugars, starch, fodder yeast, etc.Hearing all these things we are almost tempted to compare reed with the palm tree that gives us the coconut: just like a coconut tree, nothing remains unused with reed – the flower, the stem, the leaves, the rhizome, even the burned ashes and the soil of the reed isle can be used in some way.
Born in 1926 in Bucharest, a retired honorary professor, member of several Romanian and foreign societies and academies, amateur biologist and member of the Botanists' Society, Tudor Opriş wrote over 50 works in various literary fields and over 70 volumes of popular science. He received the UNESCO prize for his lifetime achievement.

by Tudor Opriş