Reed Canary Grass
Grasses of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden







Reed Canary Grass

Phalaris arundinacea L.
Poaceae (Grasses)
Woodland and Upland
2 to 8 feet
May to June
Native Status
Reed Canary Grass is a native of of North America but most of the plants that you will see are originally from seeds of an Eurasian species that were imported into the United States in the 1880s for forage and erosion control (via Sweden some sources state). That Eurasian species has now naturalized itself across the entire United States and Canada except the more humid SE States from Texas to Florida. In Minnesota it is found throughout the state with only a few exceptions in the SW Counties. Invasive: It is invasive and is listed in Minnesota as an invasive non-native terrestrial plant and a particular threat to natural wetlands as it forms large stands with which other plants cannot compete.
Reed Canary Grass is a coarse cool-season plant with erect hairless stems, growing and spreading from rhizomes that form a dense mat just beneath the soil surface. It is one of the first plants to begin spring growth. Leaf blades are 1/4" to 1/3" wide and tapering, up to 10" long. The ligule where the blade and sheath join at the stem is transparent. Leaf blades are somewhat coarse, upright and mostly basal. Seed is produced in an open panicle, ripening from the top down. The individual branches of the panicle have densely clustered florets, green to purple early and maturing to beige. If the growth is cut in early summer, a re-growth will occur in the fall. If used for erosion control care must be taken to control spread. The plant is also found to be useful for seeding filter fields that collect waste water, such as from food processing or livestock operations. The plants are heavy nutrient feeders and work well in such places. The genus name Phalaris is Greek for "shining" referring the seed heads and the species name arundinacea means "reedlike".
Reed Canary Grass
Reed Canary Grass botanical drawing
Above: The flower panicle of Reed Canary Grass.
Above: Botanical Illustration courtesy University of Wisconsin and Kurt Stüber's Online Library
Below: Detail of the stem ligule. Photo ©Christopher Noll, University of Wisconsin, Steven's Point.
Below: Drawing Drawing by Agnes Chase from Norman C. Fassett's Grasses of Wisconsin, courtesy Freckmann Herbarium, University of Wisconsin.
Reed Canary Grass stem node
Reed Canary Grass drawing
Below: Flowering heads on Reed Canary Grass showing the color ranges of the color of the early panicle branches, which turn brown toward maturity.
Reed Canary Grass
Reed Canary Grass panicle
Reed Canary Grass spikelets
Reed Canary Grass spikelets
Below: A large mass of Reed Canary Grass in the Upland Garden. Photo ©Phoebe Waugh.
Reed Canary Grass mass
Notes: This grass is indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler catalogued it in her early Garden records.  
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References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 28c, W2, W3, W5 & W6. Distribution principally from W2 and W1. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.  
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