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Reed canary grass

(Phalaris arundinacea)

Phalaris arundinacea. Commonly called Reed Canary Grass
Photo by Stephen Solheim

Reed canary grass is 2-9 foot tall. The stem is hairless and stands erect. One of the first grasses to sprout in the spring.

Only the ribbon grass cultivar (P. arundinacea var. picta) is listed as Restricted.


Other names for this plant include:
  • Common names: reed canary grass
  • Scientific names: P. arundinacea; Phalaroides arundinacea
Ecological threat:
  • It forms dense, persistent monospecific stands in wetlands, moist meadows, and riparian areas that outcompete desirable native plants.
  • Reed canary grass dominates a significant number of wetlands in the Midwest.

Classification in Wisconsin: Restricted *ribbon grass cultivar ONLY

Species Assessment Groups (SAG) were assembled to recommend a legal classification for each species considered for NR 40. The recommendation for reed canary - ribbon grass cultivar was based upon this literature review [PDF] developed by the department.


Leaves: Blades are flat and have a rough texture on both surfaces. Leaf blades gradually taper from the base to the tip and are 4-8 inches long and about ½ inch wide. The ligule is unusually large—up to ½ inch long. Top leaves are horizontal.

Flowers: Densely clustered single florets that are green to purple when in bloom (May to mid-June) and turn golden tan as seeds form. The flower branches spread during bloom but draw close to the stem at maturity.

Fruits & seeds: Ripen in late June. Seeds can germinate immediately at maturation. Dispersed via waterways, animals, humans, and machines.

Roots: Rhizomes with large numbers of dormant buds create a thick fibrous mat at or just below the soil surface.

Similar species: Reed canary grass closely resembles orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata; non-native) as well as native bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis). Reed canary grass leaves are wider than orchard grass leaves. Reed canary grass has a transparent ligule and bluejoint does not.


  • Small patches may be hand pulled, dug or covered with black plastic for a minimum of one growing season.
  • Close mowing 3 times per year can be effective to retard growth and prevent seed set.
  • Late spring or late fall burns for 5 to 6 years may be effective.
  • Soil can also be tilled repeatedly for at least one growing season or the sod can be removed by bulldozer or bobcat making sure to go 8-18” down.
  • A combination of these methods over a couple of years may be necessary to fully eliminate a stand.
  • Small scattered clones can be controlled by tying stems together just before flowering, cutting off and bagging stems, and applying glyphosate to the cut stems.
  • Foliar spray with solution of glyphosate formulated for use over water.
  • Grass specific herbicides, like sethoxydim and fluazifop-p-butyl, can be used in non-aquatic environments.
  • The herbicide imazapic has been shown to be effective for long-term control.


View reed canary grass pictures in our photo gallery!


Sources for content: Links for More Information