Phragmites communis Trin. (common reed) is a recognized model plant for studying its adaptation to contrasting and harsh environments. To understand the inherent molecular basis for its remarkable resistance to combined stresses, we performed a comprehensive proteomic analysis of the leaf proteins from two ecotypes, i.e. swamp and desert dune, naturally growing in the desert region of northwestern China. First, a proteome reference map of Phragmites was established based on the swamp ecotype. Proteins were resolved by 2-D/SDS-PAGE and identified by MALDI-TOF/TOF MS. In total, 177 spots were identified corresponding to 51 proteins. The major proteins identified are proteins involved in photosynthesis, glutathione and ascorbic acid metabolism as well as protein synthesis and quality control. Second, the 2-DE profiles of the two ecotypes were compared quantitatively via DIGE analysis. Compared with swamp ecotype, 51 proteins spots are higher-expressed and 58 protein spots are lower-expressed by twofold or more in desert dune ecotype. Major differences were found for the proteins involved in light reaction of photosynthesis, protein biosynthesis and quality control and antioxidative reactions. The physiological significance of such differences is discussed in the context of a flow of complex events in relation to plant adaptation to combined environmental stresses.