florida Early Detection Network


Reed canary-grass, ribbon grass


Phalaris arundinacea L.


Grass family


Phalaris arundinacea




Inflorescence close-up



Synonyms: Phalaris arundinacea var. picta L., Phalaris arundinacea f. varigata (Parnell) Druce. (ribbon grass)


Botanical Glossary

Phalaris arundinacea is a perennial grass that grows 0.5-2 m (1.6-6.5 ft.) tall. The stems can get up to 1.25 cm (0.5 in.) in diameter. The main blades gradually taper and are usually 10-20 cm (4-8 in.) in length and 1-2 cm (0.4-0.8 in.) in width. The blades are solid green, or in the case of some garden varieties (var. picta and f. varigata) can be green and white striped. The ligule is membranous. The panicle is between 7-25 cm (2.75-10 in.) in length. Immature panicles are compact and resemble spikes but as they mature they become more open. The plant flowers from late May to August. The inflorescence color changes from green to purplish to tan as the seeds mature. The glumes are 4-6.5 mm (0.15-0.25 in.) long, glabrous to scaberulous, and not winged. There are both sterile and fertile lemmas. The sterile lemmas measure about 1 mm (0.04 in.) in length while the fertile lemmas measure 3-4.5 mm (0.1-0.2 in.) in length. The sterile lemmas have minute hairy scales. This plant is morphologically variable and at least 10 intraspecific categories have been described. Page References Bailey 156, Crow & Hellquist 282, Fernald 185, Gleason & Cronquist 765, Holmgren 714, Magee & Ahles 190. See reference section below for full citations.


Calamagrostis canadensis (Michx.) Beauv (bluejoint grass), Dactylis glomerata L. (orchard grass), Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud (common reed) Calamagrostis canadensis generally has a more open inflorescence and lacks the transparent ligule of Phalaris arundinacea. Dactylis glomerata usually grows in drier sites, has narrower leaf blades, shorter and less pointed inflorescences and the keels of the glumes and lemmas are usually ciliate. Phragmites australis is much larger than Phalaris arundinacea, reaching 2-4m (6-14ft.) in height, and has hairy rather than membranous ligules.


The seeds of this plant are most likely passively dispersed and form a dense seed bank.


Phalaris arundinacea is a circumboreal species that is native to North America as well as Europe. It is found throughout Canada. In the United States, it is present in Alaska, as well as the majority of the continental United States except for a few south/southeastern states. It has been reported from all the states of New England.


Since Phalaris arundinacea is native to the United States, it may have been present in the northern parts of New England all along. However, European cultivars were introduced in the early 1800 as forage grasses, and are still used for hay. This grass was also used for revegetation of eroded streambanks. The variegated ribbon grass, which does occasionally naturalize, was introduced into New England through horticultural use, and is still being used for landscaping today. It is nearly impossible to tell the native and European plants apart except via molecular techniques.


Floodplain Forest, Herbaceous Wetland, Lake or Pond, Planted Forest, River or Stream, Roadside, Wet Meadow, Yard or Garden. Phalaris arundinacea grows best on streambanks, lakesides, marshes, ditches and moist ground.


Phalaris arundinacea threatens native plants through its ready spread via rhizomes. It forms dense monocultures that can cover acres. These stands cause the seed bank to become depleted of other species. The denseness of the stands does not allow for native species to readily coexist with it. It has little value for wildlife, and can be too dense to serve as cover for waterfowl and small mammals. It can get into irrigation banks and ditches and cause an increase in siltation. Phalaris arundinacea can be allergenic due to the abundant pollen and chaff it produces. [This plant is often ignored in wetland systems because it often grows with another invader, Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife) that attracts more attention. Thus, the full extent of its threat may actually be underestimated.]


Illinois Natural History Survey - General description and management guidelines

Washington State Department of Ecology

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Ecology and Control of Reed Canary Grass - A report from Applied Ecological Services, Inc.


Documentation required: Specific photograph or mounted snippet of the inflorescence. Best time for documentation: Summer


Integrated Taxonomic Information System - Has general taxonomic information about the species.

The PLANTS Database - Distribution information and additional links

Washington State Department of Ecology - General information, pictures, economic importance and control

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - General information and control

University of Florida, Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants - Photographs


Alway, F.J. 1931. Early trials and use of reed canary grass as a forage plant. Journal of the American Society of Agronomists 23:64-66.

Andersen, R.N. (1968). Germination and Establishment of Weeds for Experimental Purposes. Weed Science Society of American Handbook. WSSA, Illinois.

Apfelbaum, S.L. 1996. Phalaris arundinacea, p.90. In Randall, J.M. and J. Marinelli. [eds.]. Invasive Plants: Weeds of the Global Garden. Brooklyn Botanic Garden Inc., New York.

Bailey, L. H. 1949. Manual of Cultivated Plants. Macmillan, New York.

Barnes, W.J. APR-JUN 1999. The rapid growth of a population of reed canarygrass (phalaris arundinacea l.) And its impact on some riverbottom herbs. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 126 (2): 133-138.

Bernard, J.M, T.E. Lauve. Jun 1995. A comparison of growth and nutrient-uptake in phalaris-arundinacea l growing in a wetland and a constructed bed receiving landfill leachate. Wetlands 15 (2): 176-182.

Coulman, B.E. Apr 1995. Bellevue reed canarygrass (phalaris-arundinacea l). Canadian Journal of Plant Science 75 (2): 473-474.

Crow G.E. and C.B. Hellquist. 2000. Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Northeastern North America. Vol 1. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.

Evans, M.W. & J.E. Ely. 1941. Growth habits of reed canary grass. . Journal of the American Society of Agronomists 33:1017-1027.

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's Manual of Botany 8th edition. American Book Company, New York.

Gleason H.A. and A.C. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 2nd ed. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Green, E.K., S.M. Galatowitsch. FEB 2001. Differences in wetland plant community establishment with additions of nitrate-n and invasive species (phalaris arundinacea and typha xglauca). Canadian Journal of Botany-Revue Canadienne De Botanique 79 (2): 170-178.

Henderson, R.A. 1991. Reed canarygrass poses threat to oak savanna restoration and maintenance (Wisconsin). . Restoration & Management Notes 9(1): 32.

Hoffmann, J.H., and Kearns, K. (1998) Wisconsin Manual of Control Recommendation for ecologically invasive plants. Bureau of Endangered Resources, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

Holmgren N.H. 1998. Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Klimesova, J. Apr 1994. The effects of timing and duration of floods on growth of young plants of phalaris-arundinacea l and urtica-dioica l - an experimental-study. Aquatic Botany 48 (1): 21-29.

Lesica, P. OCT 1997. Spread of phalaris arundinacea adversely impacts the endangered plant howellia aquatilis. Great Basin Naturalist 57 (4): 366-368.

Magee D.W and H.E. Ahles. 1999. Flora of the Northeast. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst.

Merigliano, M.F., P. Lesica. JUL 1998. The native status of reed canary grass (phalaris arundinacea l.) In the inland northwest, USA. Natural Areas Journal 18 (3): 223-230.

Morrison, S.L., J. Molofsky. OCT 1999. Environmental and genetic effects on the early survival and growth of the invasive grass phalaris arundinacea. Canadian Journal of Botany-Revue Canadienne De Botanique 77 (10): 1447-1453.

Morrison, S.L., J. Molofsky. NOV 1998. Effects of genotypes, soil moisture, and competition on the growth of an invasive grass, phalaris arundinacea (reed canary grass). Canadian Journal of Botany-Revue Canadienne De Botanique 76 (11): 1939-1946.

Taylor, R.J.(1990). Northwest Weeds, The Ugly and Beautiful Villains of Fields, Gardens and Roadsides. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana.

USDA, NRCS. 2001. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.1. (//plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

Wetzel, P.R., A.G. Van Der Valk. OCT 1998. Effects of nutrient and soil moisture on competition between carex stricta, phalaris arundinacea, and typha latifolia. Plant Ecology 138 (2): 179-190.

White, D.J., Haber, E., and Keddy, C. (1993) Invasive plants of natural habitats in Canada. Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.