Phragmites-a multi-purpose plant

A year or so ago, I tried using a grass from the Meadowlands as a decorative element in my tiles and was very pleased with the results. I’ve made some “small” tiles from it (pictured here) as well as a large mosaic mural that measures 6 ft wide by 4 ft tall (a work in progress but coming soon!).

In my masters program, I can take courses in other media so this semester, I am taking papermaking. Now, I want to note here that paper can be made from just about any material, including certain grasses, elephant poo, and even out of non-natural material such as sponges! (The sponge paper swells in water and is very brittle but if you combine it with natural fibers, you get the interesting flecks of color with the strength and utility of paper.) My professor loaned me a book by Lillian A. Bell called Plant Fibers for Papermaking, which has a recipe for making paper out of Phragmites! The other book we are using in the class is The Papermaker’s Companion by Helen Hiebert who also wrote a book called Papermaking with Plants where she describes techniques useful in making paper out of plants.

Needless to say, I’m very excited to start a project using Phragmites to make paper and hope to make an interesting multi-media piece of paper and clay to add to my existing work using the grass.

As an aside, if you’re curious about the Meadowlands, The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures on the Edge of a City by Robert Sullivan. It came highly recommended by a friend of mine, so I recently acquired a copy myself and look forward to digging in!

Additional comments: After posting this blog, I received a spirited message from someone concerned with how invasive Phragmites is, and to be honest, I didn’t realize that. It is present in every state throughout the US and the US Department of Agriculture lists 6 states (although not in NJ) where it is classified it as either an invasive aquatic plant or noxious weed because of its ability to spread rapidly and to crowd out other species. The site also lists its characteristics and pulpwood product is not a suitable use, according to them. My professor says the stems are too woody to make hand papermaking a viable option, but the leaves can be used at least.

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