reed / rēd/ • n. 1. a tall, slender-leaved plant of the grass family that grows in water or on marshy ground. • Genera Phragmites and Arundo, family Gramineae: several species, in particular the common (or Norfolk) reed (P. australis), which is used for thatching. ∎ used in names of similar plants growing in wet habitats, e.g., bur reed. ∎ a tall, thin, straight stalk of such a plant, used esp. as material for thatching. ∎ [often as adj.] such plants growing in a mass or used as material, esp. for making thatch or household items: a reed curtain clumps of reed and grass. ∎ poetic/lit. a rustic musical pipe made from such plants or from straw. 2. a thing or person resembling or likened to such plants, in particular: ∎ a weak or impressionable person: the jurors were mere reeds in the wind. ∎ poetic/lit. an arrow. ∎ a weaver's comblike implement for separating the threads of the warp and correctly positioning the weft. ∎ (reeds) semicylindrical adjacent moldings grouped like reeds laid together. 3. a piece of thin cane or metal, sometimes doubled, that vibrates in a current of air to produce the sound of various musical instruments, as in the mouthpiece of a clarinet or oboe, at the base of some organ pipes, and as part of a set in the accordion and harmonica. ∎ a wind instrument played with a reed. ∎ an organ stop with reed pipes. 4. an electrical contact used in a magnetically operated switch or relay. DERIVATIVES: reed·like / -ˌlīk/ adj.
Three species of reed grow in Israel on the banks of rivers and swamps. Two of them, Phragmites communis and Arundo donax, are the kaneh of the Bible and rabbinical literature; the third, Saccharum biflorum, seems to be the biblical agmon. These species also grow on the banks of the Nile. In the scriptural parable "the bruised reed" that cannot be depended on and even inflicts harm symbolizes treacherous Egypt (Isa. 36:6; Ezek. 29:6–7), and it is mentioned as withering during the drying-up of the Nile. The *Behemoth dwells "in the covert of the reed and the fens" (Job 40: 21), and is therefore called "the wild beast of the reeds" (Ps. 68:31). The reed standing in the water and shaking in the wind in the prophecy of *Ahijah symbolized the Israelite nation shaking from the many blows inflicted upon it (i Kings 14:15). According to the Midrash: "The curse with which Ahijah of Shiloh cursed Israel is preferable to the blessing of the wicked Balaam. Balaam praised them as cedars (Num. 24:6) while Ahijah cursed them as 'the reed which is shaken.' The reed stands in water and, although bruised and bent, recovers. It has many roots so that even if all the winds of the world blow upon it, they do not move it from its place, but it sways with them and when the wind ceases it remains standing in its place." Hence, concludes the moralist, "a man should always be as pliant as a reed and not as hard as the cedar." As a result, the reed merited that the scroll of the law be written with it.
Reeds had many uses: for roofing (Gen. R. 1:8), for making partitions (Tosef., Er. 2:4), mats (Kel. 17:17), scales (Kel. 17:16), flutes (Tosef., Ar. 2:3), and pens (kolmos, "pen" is derived from calamus, "reed," Ta'an, 20b). Some grew it in gardens (Tosef., Dem. 7, end). The pay for cutting reeds was low, hence the designation katla kanya be'agma ("cutter of reeds") for a person of little worth (Sanh. 33a, et al.). Reeds were much used for making arrows, the Midrash noting that Israel lacks nothing – "even reeds for arrows" (Eccles. R. 2:8, no. 2). In this connection the words of Pliny are instructive: "The peoples of the East wage war with the aid of the reed, they strengthen their arrowheads with it and give wings to death by putting feathers into the reeds" (Natural History, 16:159).
Agmon is mentioned a number of times in the Bible as a slender plant, shaking in the wind and bowing its head, its head being the thick inflorescence shaped like a tail (Isa. 9–13). Its thin stalk was used for stringing fish (Job 40:26). The word is connected with agam ("swamp"). The scriptural descriptions of agmon fit Saccharum biflorum, the slenderest of the reeds common in Israel.
Loew, Flora, 1 (1928), 662–85; H.N. and A.L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible (1952), index; J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (19682), 288–93. add. bibliography: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 146.
reed, name used for several plants of the family Graminae (grass family). The common American reed, also called reedgrass and canegrass, is a tall perennial grass (Phragmites australis), widely distributed in fresh or brackish wet places. It has stout, creeping rootstalks and a large plumelike panicle. In the SW United States this grass is called carrizo and is used in building adobe huts; it has also been used for thatching and cordage. Native Americans collected a sweet exudate from the plant and made arrows of the stalks. The leaves served as edible greens and the seeds as a cereal food. Due in part to the degradation of salt marshes and in part to the supplanting of the native P. australis by a Eurasian variety, the reed has become invasive in American wetlands, where it often forms a monoculture. The giant reed (Arundo donax), of similar appearance, is native to the Mediterranean region but is now widely naturalized throughout tropical and warm climates, including the S United States. It is often cultivated for ornament, and in Europe the stems have been used to make reed instruments, bagpipes, and reed organs. This is the reed from which Pan was fabled to have made his panpipe, or syrinx. The "reeds" of wickerwork are often rattan. Reeds are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Cyperales, family Gramineae.
a reed shaken by the wind the type of something easily moved and insubstantial, with biblical allusion as to Matthew 11:7, ‘What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?’
See also broken reed.