Abstract Common reed die-back is a widely investigated phenomenon in Central Europe, not frequently recorded in S-European areas and almost unknown in the Mediterranean Basin. Symptoms of reed decline recently observed in the Italian Peninsula provided the starting point for a detailed investigation on a reed population in one of the largest freshwater ecosystems in Central Italy. The analyses were conducted over two vegetative seasons in 19 plots at seven locations. A set of 13 morphologic and phenologic reed traits were screened, monitored and statistically analysed. The data indicated the presence of the reed die-back syndrome in a wet Mediterranean ecosystem and enabled us to highlight a set of usable traits to detect the condition of decline. Among them, the stem height and diameter, the number of nodes, the relative growth rate and the lateral root diameter resulted the most significant factors highlighting the declining condition. Some environmental characteristics of the reed stands were also taken into account. The period of submersion and the presence of standing litter emerged as important features of the stands, strictly related to the degree of decline in the population. The results draw attention to the risk, in southern Europe too, of the loss of an ecosystem which plays an important role in biodiversity conservation.