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Phalaris arundinacea (reed canary grass)


  • Last modified
  • 29 March 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Phalaris arundinacea
  • Preferred Common Name
  • reed canary grass
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • P. arundinacea typically invades seasonally wet or continually moist areas and spreads rapidly along ditch systems and land adjacent to watercourses (
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Top of page

Preferred Scientific Name

  • Phalaris arundinacea L.

Preferred Common Name

  • reed canary grass

Other Scientific Names

  • Baldingera arundinacea (L.) Dumort.
  • Phalaroides arundinacea (L.) Rauschert
  • Typhoides arundinacea (L.) Moench

International Common Names

  • English: gardener's garters; reed canarygrass; reedgrass; ribbon grass
  • Spanish: alpiste arundinaceo; falaris de los banados; hierba cinta
  • French: alpiste roseau; baldingere faux-roseau
  • Portuguese: caniço-malhado

Local Common Names

  • Germany: Rohrglanzgras
  • Italy: fettuccia d'acqua; scagliola d'acqua
  • Japan: kusayoshi
  • Netherlands: rietgras
  • South Africa: langbeenkanariegras; lekolojane; rietgras; rietkanarigras
  • Sweden: roerflen

EPPO code

  • TYPAR (Phalaris arundinacea)

Summary of Invasiveness

Top of page P. arundinacea typically invades seasonally wet or continually moist areas and spreads rapidly along ditch systems and land adjacent to watercourses (Marten and Heath, 1973). Large quantities of highly mobile seed are produced in the first year of life, and a soil seed bank and permanent rhizome bed quickly build up. For these reasons control is not easy once this species is established (Kilbride and Paveglio, 1999).

Taxonomic Tree

Top of page
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Cyperales
  •                         Family: Poaceae
  •                             Genus: Phalaris
  •                                 Species: Phalaris arundinacea

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Top of page The genus Phalaris comprises 15 species and is distributed worldwide with the greatest diversity of species in the Mediterranean area (Anderson, 1961). At least three species, including P. arundinacea, have become undesirable weeds. The scientific and common names of P. arundinacea refer to its reed-like appearance.

Many cultivated varieties have been registered for seed and forage yield in the USA (Rincker and Carlson, 1983; Kalton et al., 1989a, b), others have been developed for erosion control or for their ornamental value (such as the variety or form 'Picta' with variegated leaf blades).


Top of page P. arundinacea is a stout, erect perennial reed growing 0.6-2 m high with far creeping rhizomes. Leaves flat, smooth, acuminate. Blade 10-35 cm long, 6-25 mm wide (approximately 20 times as long as wide), flat, linear. Ligule membranous, truncate, or occasionally acuate, 6-10 mm; sheaths smooth. Culm erect or geniculate, not branching. Panicle lobed lanceolate, 7-40 cm long, 1-4 cm wide, composed of branches up to 5 cm long, spreading only at flowering. Spikelets 3.5-7.5 mm long, subsessile. Glumes lanceolate, acuminate, keeled but not winged. Lemmas broadly lanceolate, acute; L1 and L2 1.2-2.3 mm long, short-hairy, sterile; L3 fertile, 2.9-4.5 mm long, 5-nerved, short-hairy. Caryopses light brown, 2-3 mm long.

It is a highly variable species, varying in height, size and shape of inflorescence, and coloration (Apfelbaum and Sams, 1987). The sturdy, often hollow stems can be up to 13 mm in diameter, with some reddish coloration near the top.

Plant Type

Top of page Grass / sedge
Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated


Top of page Although certainly native to Eurasia and probably native to North America (Merigliano and Lesica, 1998), this species currently appears to be undergoing a large expansion in range and density in these regions (Maurer and Zedler, 2002). It is also present as a weed in some temperate countries in the southern hemisphere (Holm et al., 1979; Wells et al., 1986) and also in the tropics (Häfliger and Scholz, 1980).

Häfliger and Scholz (1980) describe the distribution as: northern, south-eastern, south-central and western USA, Central America, southern, eastern and northern Africa, Iberian Peninsula, central, northern and south-eastern Europe, former USSR, Middle East, Indian sub-continent, south-east Asian sub-continent and Pacific Islands.

In North America, the species is common throughout most of Alaska (USA) and Canada as well as all but the south-east part of the USA (Hitchcock et al., 1969).

Distribution Table

Top of page

The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


AfghanistanPresentHolm et al., 1979
ArmeniaPresentNative, 2003
AzerbaijanPresentNative, 2003
ChinaPresentNative, 2003; Holm et al., 1979
-HunanPresentYang, 1988
Georgia (Republic of)PresentNative, 2003
IndiaPresentHolm et al., 1979
-BiharPresentNoltie, 2000
-SikkimPresentNoltie, 2000
-West BengalPresentNoltie, 2000
IndonesiaPresentHolm et al., 1979
IranPresentNative, 2003
IraqPresentNative, 2003
JapanPresentNative, 2003; Holm et al., 1979
KazakhstanPresentNative, 2003
Korea, Republic ofPresentNative, 2003; Holm et al., 1979
KyrgyzstanPresentNative, 2003
MongoliaPresentNative, 2003
Sri LankaPresentHolm et al., 1979
TaiwanPresentNative, 2003
TajikistanPresentNative, 2003
TurkeyPresentNative, 2003; Holm et al., 1979
TurkmenistanPresentNative, 2003
UzbekistanPresentNative, 2003


AlgeriaPresentNative, 2003
EgyptPresentNative, 2003
EthiopiaPresentIntroducedFroman and Persson, 1974
KenyaPresentIntroducedFroman and Persson, 1974
LesothoPresentWells et al., 1986
MauritiusPresentHolm et al., 1979
South AfricaPresentWells et al., 1986
TanzaniaPresentIntroducedFroman and Persson, 1974
TunisiaPresentNative, 2003
UgandaPresentIntroducedFroman and Persson, 1974

North America

CanadaPresentHolm et al., 1979
-AlbertaPresentNative, 2003
-British ColumbiaPresentNative, 2003
-ManitobaPresentNative, 2003
-New BrunswickPresentNative, 2003
-Newfoundland and LabradorPresentNative, 2003
-Northwest TerritoriesPresentNative, 2003
-Nova ScotiaPresentNative, 2003
-OntarioPresentNative, 2003
-Prince Edward IslandPresentNative, 2003
-QuebecPresentNative, 2003
-SaskatchewanPresentNative, 2003
-Yukon TerritoryPresentNative, 2003
USAPresentNativeHolm et al., 1979
-AlaskaPresentNative, 2003; Hitchcock et al., 1969
-ArizonaPresentNative, 2003
-CaliforniaPresentNative, 2003
-ConnecticutPresentNative, 2003
-DelawarePresentNative, 2003
-IdahoPresentNative, 2003
-IllinoisPresentNative, 2003
-IndianaPresentNative, 2003
-IowaPresentNative, 2003
-KansasPresentNative, 2003
-KentuckyPresentNative, 2003
-MainePresentNative, 2003
-MarylandPresentNative, 2003
-MassachusettsPresentNative, 2003
-MichiganPresentNative, 2003
-MinnesotaPresent, 2003
-MissouriPresentNative, 2003
-MontanaPresentNative, 2003
-NebraskaPresentNative, 2003
-NevadaPresentNative, 2003
-New HampshirePresentNative, 2003
-New JerseyPresentNative, 2003
-New MexicoPresentNative, 2003
-New YorkPresentNative, 2003
-North CarolinaPresentNative, 2003
-North DakotaPresentNative, 2003
-OhioPresentNative, 2003
-OregonPresentNative, 2003
-PennsylvaniaPresentNative, 2003
-Rhode IslandPresentNative, 2003
-South DakotaPresentNative, 2003
-TennesseePresentNative, 2003
-UtahPresentNative, 2003
-VermontPresentNative, 2003
-VirginiaPresentNative, 2003
-WashingtonPresentNative, 2003
-West VirginiaPresentNative, 2003
-WisconsinPresentNative, 2003

Central America and Caribbean

Puerto RicoPresentHolm et al., 1979

South America

ArgentinaPresentHolm et al., 1979
ColombiaPresentHolm et al., 1979
Falkland IslandsPresentUlibarri, 1981


AlbaniaPresentNative, 2003
AustriaPresentNative, 2003
BelarusPresentNative, 2003
BelgiumPresentNative, 2003; Holm et al., 1979
BulgariaPresentNative, 2003
CroatiaPresentHulina et al., 1990
Czechoslovakia (former)PresentNative, 2003; Holm et al., 1979; Prach, 1992
DenmarkPresentNative, 2003
EstoniaPresentNative, 2003
FinlandPresentNative, 2003; Holm et al., 1979
FrancePresentNative, 2003
GermanyPresentNativeHoflich et al., 1990; , 2003
GreecePresentNative, 2003
HungaryPresentNative, 2003; Holm et al., 1979
ItalyPresentNative, 2003; Holm et al., 1979; Baldini, 1993
LatviaPresentNative, 2003
LithuaniaPresentNative, 2003
MoldovaPresentNative, 2003
NetherlandsPresentVermeer, 1986
NorwayPresentNative, 2003; Odland, 1997
PolandPresentNative, 2003; Holm et al., 1979; Szelag, 1997; Czyz et al., 1999; Grynia et al., 1999
PortugalPresentNative, 2003; Holm et al., 1979; Costa, 1981
RomaniaPresentNative, 2003; Hanganu et al., 1994
Russian FederationPresentNative, 2003; Chernyaeva, 1977; Zakharchenko and Masalkin, 1977
-Eastern SiberiaPresentNative, 2003
-Russia (Europe)PresentNative, 2003
-Western SiberiaPresentNative, 2003
SpainPresentNative, 2003
SwedenPresentNative, 2003; Holm et al., 1979
SwitzerlandPresentNative, 2003
UKPresentNative, 2003; Daniels, 1978; Holm et al., 1979
UkrainePresentNative, 2003
Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)PresentNative, 2003


AustraliaPresentHolm et al., 1979
New ZealandPresentHolm et al., 1979

History of Introduction and Spread

Top of page P. arundinacea is now a circumarboreal species (Larson, 1993). However, there is some debate as to whether it is native to North America (Harrison et al., 1996b). It is likely that populations of P. arundinacea in the USA consist of a mixture of agronomic cultivars (introduced from Europe) and native varieties (Merigliano and Lesica, 1998). Distinguishing native strains in the USA is therefore very difficult (White et al., 1993). Baldini (1993) has looked at ploidy levels for this purpose.


Top of page P. arundinacea is a wetland plant, typically occurring in soils that are saturated, or nearly so, for most of the growing season, but where standing water does not persist for extended periods (Stace, 1997). However, established stands can tolerate extended periods of inundation (Ivanov et al., 1981). Ideal conditions typically occur in roadside ditches, river dykes and levées, shallow marshes, and meadows (Weinmann et al., 1984). It is also found in waste places, perennial crops and aquatic biotopes (Häfliger and Scholz, 1980). It can be found in some upland sites, for example in Washington State, USA (Harrison et al., 1996b). It is intolerant of shade and is replaced by Salix species, Cornus stolonifera, Prunus virginiana, Carex and Juncus species in Washington State (Harrison et al., 1996b). P. arundinacea is used as an indicator species in Daniels' (1978) classification of British mires.

Habitat List

Top of page
Disturbed areas Present, no further details
Rail / roadsides Present, no further details
Urban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details
Riverbanks Present, no further details
Wetlands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)

Hosts/Species Affected

Top of page P. arundinacea has negative impacts on wetland plant species and plant communities in the USA. Where the species invades short perennial grasses such as Agrostis alba or Festuca rubra (species typically planted along irrigation ditches), it inhibits their growth within 3-5 months, eventually eliminating them (Apfelbaum and Sams, 1987).

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContext
Festuca rubra (red fescue)PoaceaeUnknown
Typha latifolia (broadleaf cattail)TyphaceaeUnknown

Biology and Ecology

Top of page Genetics

The chromosome number is 2n = 28 (Stace, 1997).

Sachs and Coulman (1983) and Ostrem (1988) found wide genetic variation in seed yield and other agronomic characters: broad-sense heritabilities were between 0.20 and 0.84. Alkaloid concentration also shows wide genetic variation, with heritabilities for total alkaloid concentration ranging from 0.19 to 0.70 for a range of populations (Ostrem, 1987). Hovin et al. (1978) reported genetic variation in the concentration of eight minerals in P. arundinacea.

Gifford et al. (2002) predicted genetic bottle-necking in populations of this species in the USA due to its recent, rapid range-expansion. However, no such phenomenon has been detected.

Physiology and Phenology

Germination at a temperature of 24-27°C is significantly stimulated by moist chilling in light, red light given during the first 3 days of imbibition, three 2-h periods at 12°C given during the second day of imbibition, ethylene, increased oxygen tension, and soaking in aerated water for 4 days. Dry storage at 20-30°C had no effect on the germinability of the seeds. No significant quantities of germination inhibitors have been found either in water or methanol extracts of seed dispersal units (Landgraff and Junttila, 1979). Berg (1982) reports that germination rates in some strains of this species are too low (due to dormancy) for them to have any agricultural use.

Flowering in P. arundinacea requires exposure to short day-length conditions for primary floral induction and long day-length conditions (13-15 h) for secondary induction (Heide, 1994). The species flowers in June and July in the Pacific Northwest, USA (Hitchcock et al., 1969; Weinmann et al., 1984).

Dead leaves persist throughout the winter resting period (in the UK; Clapham et al., 1987).

Hovin et al. (1980) report that the alkaloid concentration in most of the accessions studied was high enough to adversely affect the performance of ruminants.

Reproductive Biology

Reproduction in this species is via seeds, rhizomes and tillers (Wells et al., 1986; Ito et al., 1990). It will also produce roots and shoots from the nodes of freshly cut, well jointed culms (Marten and Heath, 1973; Corley, 1989). Dethioux (1986) has demonstrated that stem cuttings of this species are a viable means of propagation. Gifford et al. (2002) have strong evidence that P. arundinacea reproduces primarily clonally in North America.

Environmental Requirements

P. arundinacea generally favours moist to inundated soils and is even used as an indicator of soil moisture in some areas (Strien and Melman, 1987). It survives under complete anaerobiosis but does not show shoot extension (Barclay and Crawford, 1982) under this condition. It is highly resistant to flooding (up to 50 d inundation; Ivanov et al., 1981), and to regular flooding cycles (Rice et al., 1993).

Some strains are tolerant of high soil aluminium concentrations (Culvenor et al., 1986), but the species appears less tolerant of high salinity (Liu et al., 1992). It regenerates and re-colonizes riparian habitats quickly after severe disturbance (Ohtsuka and Nemoto, 1997); because of this, Morrison and Molofsky (1998) suggest that this species is most likely to become a pest in disturbed or low-density plant communities.

There is evidence to suggest that nutrient enrichment by nitrate-nitrogen from agricultural run-off improves habitat suitability for P. arundinacea and is contributing to increasing colonization and dominance of this species in wetlands in the USA (Green and Galatowitsch, 2002).

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
0 0 0 0


Top of page
ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall00mm; lower/upper limits

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • impeded
  • seasonally waterlogged

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Septoria bromi var. phalaricola Pathogen Leaves
Sitodiplosis phalaridis Herbivore Inflorescence
Ustilago echinata Pathogen Inflorescence

Notes on Natural Enemies

Top of page For further information on the natural enemies listed see the following: Sitodiplosis mosellana (Abbass, 1986; Sylven et al. 1997); Septoria bromi var. phalaricola (Zeiders, 1979); and Ustilago echinata (Guo, 1991).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

Top of page Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)

Seeds are dispersed along ditches and waterways (Apfelbaum and Sams, 1987).

Intentional Introduction

P. arundinacea has been widely introduced into the USA as stock fodder (Larson, 1993).

Plant Trade

Top of page
Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transportPest stagesBorne internallyBorne externallyVisibility of pest or symptoms
Bulbs/Tubers/Corms/Rhizomes stems
Flowers/Inflorescences/Cones/Calyx seeds; stems
Fruits (inc. pods) seeds
Growing medium accompanying plants roots; seeds; stems
Leaves seeds
Roots roots; seeds; stems
Seedlings/Micropropagated plants whole plants
Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches seeds; stems
True seeds (inc. grain) seeds

Impact Summary

Top of page
Animal/plant collections None
Animal/plant products None
Biodiversity (generally) Negative
Crop production None
Environment (generally) Negative
Fisheries / aquaculture None
Forestry production None
Human health None
Livestock production None
Native fauna None
Native flora Negative
Rare/protected species None
Tourism None
Trade/international relations None
Transport/travel None


Top of page Few data are available on the economic impact of infestations of this species. However, there is considerable evidence that at least some strains have a negative impact upon cattle and sheep when included in feed. P. arundinacea can contain a number of harmful alkaloids including tryptamine-carboline and gramine (Marten, 1973; Marten et al., 1976); selenium can also be present at 0.005 p.p.m. (Susaki et al., 1980).

When in flower, the species produces abundant pollen and chaff, which aggravate hay fever and allergies (Weinmann et al., 1984).

Environmental Impact

Top of page The species is considered a serious weed along irrigation banks and ditches (in Washington State, USA, for example) because infestation can cause siltation (Marten and Heath, 1973).

Impact: Biodiversity

Top of page According to Maurer and Zedler (2002), P. arundinacea is aggressively invading wetlands across North America. The species grows so vigorously that it is able to inhibit and eliminate competing species (Apfelbaum and Sams, 1987). In some locations (such as river islands in western Wisconsin, USA) this species has become the dominant plant in only 15 years (Barnes, 1999). It can replace native vegetation with monospecific stands (Lindig Cisneros and Zedler, 2002).

In one study, only herbs and smaller grasses growing less than 1 m above the maximum water level were outcompeted by P. arundinacea. The species growing above this level remained unaffected (Barnes, 1999). Wetzel and Valk (1998) have shown that P. arundinacea can outcompete and overshadow other typical riparian plant species such as Carex stricta and Typha latifolia. Unlike many other invasive species in North America, P. arundinacea does reduce native plant biodiversity in undisturbed as well as disturbed wetland habitats (Harrison et al., 1996a; Lesica, 1997). Areas that have existed as monocultures of this species for extended periods may have seedbanks that are devoid of native plant species (Apfelbaum and Sams, 1987).

Dense stands of P. arundinacea have lower wildlife value than native vegetation: few species can feed on this plant, and the stems grow too densely to provide suitable cover for mammals and waterfowl (Maia, 1994).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Has high reproductive potential
Impact outcomes
  • Negatively impacts animal health
  • Reduced native biodiversity
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult/costly to control


Top of page Some strains of P. arundinacea (i.e., those low in toxic compounds) are used as fodder crops. This species has been an important component of lowland fodder in a number of countries for some time, particularly in Europe, the USA and Russia. It has been the subject of much agricultural research (for example, see Alway, 1931; Hitchcock, 1950; Hitchcock et al., 1969; Tasi and Barcsak, 2001; Struzhkina, 2002).

Trials by Vassileva and Jingov (1988) showed this species to offer effective soil conservation properties on strongly eroded soils.

P. arundinacea has also been the subject of much research into biomass/energy crops (for example, Bullard et al., 2001; Gylling, 2001) and, as such, this crop is considered to have a relatively low environmental impact in northern Europe (Pedersen, 1997).

It is also grown in Europe for its short fibres which are suitable for high-quality paper production (Pedersen, 1997).

It also has ornamental value as a landscaping plant and for dried flowers (Corley, 1989; Urbanski, 1997). The variegated form 'Picta' is popular.

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed
  • Forage


  • Erosion control or dune stabilization


  • Ornamental


  • Poisonous to mammals

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

Top of page P. arundinacea is distinguished from most other Phalaris species by being a rhizomatous perennial with glumes un-winged.

Prevention and Control

Top of page Cultural Control

Burning has been effective in areas with an existing component of native plants, either above ground or in the soil seed bank. To be effective, burns should be conducted in the late spring, early to mid-summer, or early to late autumn. Early spring burning stimulates the production of shoots (Apfelbaum, 1993).

Mechanical Control

Heavy equipment alone seems unsuccessful in the removal of this species. Rapid re-growth occurs from rhizomes and seeds that remain in the soil. Clipping back plants at ground level and covering them with opaque black plastic sheets can reduce but not eliminate populations (Apfelbaum and Sams, 1987). However, this method is not always successful because seasonal inundation may displace covering materials (Gillespie and Murn, 1992).

Mowing may be a valuable control method since it removes seed heads before maturity and exposes the ground to light, which promotes the growth of native species. In Wisconsin, USA, twice-yearly mowing in early to mid-June and early October led to increased numbers of native species relative to P. arundinacea-infested plots that were not mown (Gillespie and Murn, 1992).

Chemical Control

Glyphosate, amitrole, dalapon and paraquat have all shown some success. Maximum control depends on the timing of application (Apfelbaum and Sams, 1987). These herbicides provide control for 2 years at the most. After this period, treated areas are recolonized from adjacent stands or from seedbank recruitment (White et al., 1993). In Washington State, USA, glyphosate treatment, followed 2 or 3 weeks later by burning, has also been effective. Because this species is often present in or near watercourses, careful consideration should be given to the environmental and legal consequences of the use of herbicides.

Integrated Control

Kilbride and Paveglio (1999) recommend cutting (discing) followed by herbicide treatment in the following growing season. Without herbicide use, the species quickly re-grows from rhizomes. They recommend that the cutting/herbicide regime continues until the site water level can be altered sufficiently to reduce P. arundinacea growth. The use of fire helps to ensure mortality by killing re-sprouts and germinants which appear after herbicide use (Apfelbaum, 1993).


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