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Ribbon grass or gardener's garters

Phalaris arundinacea var. picta

Photo of ribbon grass
Photo credit: Andrey Korzun

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.


Other names for this plant include:
  • Common names: ribbon grass, gardener's garters
  • Scientific names: P. arundinacea var. picta; 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.
Restricted (orange) counties
Restricted (orange) counties

Classification in Wisconsin: Restricted (this restriction does not include the parent type - reed canary grass)

Species Assessment Groups (SAG) were assembled to recommend a legal classification for each species considered for NR 40. The recommendation for reed canary grass - 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 ribbon grass pictures in our photo gallery!


Sources for content: Links for More Information