The role of antioxidant and detoxification enzymes of Phragmites australis, in the degradation of an azo dye, acid orange 7 (AO7), was studied. Activities of several enzymes involved in plant protection against stress were assayed through the activity characterization of superoxide dismutase (SOD), peroxidases (POD), catalase (CAT), ascorbate peroxidase (APOX), dehydroascorbate reductase (DHAR) and glutathione S-transferase (GST), obtained from P. australis crude extracts of leaves, stems and roots. A sub-surface vertical flow constructed wetland, planted with P. australis was used to test the plants response to the AO7 exposure at two different concentrations (130 and 700 mg l(-1)). An activity increase was detected for an AO7 concentration of 130 mg l(-1) for most enzymes studied (SOD, CAT and APOX), especially in leaves, suggesting a response of the reactive oxygen species scavenging enzymes to the chemical stress imposed. GST activity increase in this situation can also be interpreted as an activation of the detoxification pathway and subsequent AO7 conjugation. A totally different behaviour was observed for AO7 at 700 mg l(-1). An evident decrease in activity was observed for SOD, CAT, APOX and GST, probably due to enzymatic inhibition by AO7. Contrarily, DHAR activity augmented drastically in this situation. POD activity was not greatly affected during trial. Altogether these results suggest that P. australis effectively uses the ascorbate-glutathione pathway for the detoxification of AO7.