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Reed Canary Grass

Phalaris arundinacea

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Poaceae (Grass)
Also in this family:
Alpine Catstail, Alpine Foxtail, Alpine Meadow-grass, Annual Beard-grass, Annual Meadow-grass, Arrow Bamboo, Barren Brome Grass, Bearded Couch Grass, Bearded Fescue, Bermuda Grass, Black Bent, Black Grass, Blue Fescue, Blue Moor-grass, Bog Hair-grass, Borrer's Saltmarsh Grass, Bread Wheat, Bristle Bent, Brown Bent, Brown Sedge, Bulbous Foxtail, Bulbous Meadow-grass, California Brome Grass, Canary Grass, Carnation Sedge, Cocksfoot, Cockspur, Common Bent, Common Cord-grass, Common Millet, Common Reed, Common Saltmarsh Grass, Compact Brome Grass, Corn, Couch Grass, Creeping Bent, Creeping Soft-grass, Crested Dog's-tail, Crested Hair-grass, Cultivated Oat, Curved Hard Grass, Cut Grass, Dense Silky Bent, Downy Oat-grass, Drooping Brome Grass, Drooping Tor Grass, Dune Fescue, Early Hair-grass, Early Meadow-grass, Early Sand-grass, False Brome Grass, False Oat-grass, Fern Grass, Fine-leaved Sheep's Fescue, Flattened Meadow-grass, Floating Sweet-grass, Foxtail Barley, French Oat, Giant Fescue, Glaucous Meadow-grass, Great Brome Grass, Greater Quaking Grass, Grey Hair-grass, Hairy Brome Grass, Hairy Finger-grass, Hard Fescue, Hard Grass, Harestail Grass, Heath Grass, Holy Grass, Hybrid Marram Grass, Italian Rye Grass, Knotroot Bristlegrass, Lesser Hairy Brome Grass, Lesser Quaking Grass, Loose Silky Bent, Lyme Grass, Marram Grass, Marsh Foxtail, Mat Grass, Mat-grass Fescue, Meadow Barley, Meadow Fescue, Meadow Foxtail, Meadow Oat-grass, Mountain Melick, Narrow-leaved Meadow-grass, Narrow-leaved Small-reed, Neglected Couch Grass, Nit Grass, Orange Foxtail, Pampas Grass, Perennial Rye Grass, Plicate Sweet-grass, Purple Moor-grass, Purple Small-reed, Purple-stem Catstail, Quaking Grass, Ratstail Fescue, Red Fescue, Reed Sweet-grass, Reflexed Saltmarsh Grass, Rescue Grass, Rough Meadow-grass, Rush-leaved Fescue, Sand Catstail, Sand Couch Grass, Scandinavian Small-reed, Scottish Small-reed, Sea Barley, Sea Couch Grass, Sea Fern Grass, Sheep's Fescue, Silver Hair-grass, Six-rowed Barley, Slender Brome Grass, Small Cord-grass, Small Sweet-grass, Smaller Catstail, Smooth Brome Grass, Smooth Cord-grass, Smooth Finger-grass, Smooth Meadow-grass, Soft Brome Grass, Somerset Hair-grass, Sorghum, Spreading Meadow-grass, Squirreltail Fescue, Stiff Brome Grass, Stiff Saltmarsh Grass, Sweet Vernal Grass, Tall Fescue, Timothy Grass, Tor Grass, Tufted Hair-grass, Two-rowed Barley, Upright Brome Grass, Velvet Bent, Viviparous Fescue, Wall Barley, Wavy Hair-grass, Wavy Meadow-grass, Whorl Grass, Wild Oat, Wood Barley, Wood Fescue, Wood Meadow-grass, Wood Melick, Wood Millet, Yellow Oat-grass, Yorkshire Fog
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
2 metres tall
Bogs, ditches, fens, fields, gardens, grassland, marshes, meadows, mudflats, riverbanks, riversides, roadsides, seaside, swamps, wasteland, waterside, wetland, woodland.

Green, no petals
The flowers of Reed Canary Grass in the UK are small and typically arranged in a dense, cylindrical cluster called a spike. These flowering spikes emerge in late spring to early summer. The individual flowers are often inconspicuous, with pale green to purplish hues. The spike is a compact and cylindrical structure, adding a distinctive visual element to the grass. The flowering phase contributes to the reproductive cycle of the plant, leading to the production of seeds for propagation. Overall, the flowers of Reed Canary Grass in the UK may not be showy, but they play a crucial role in the plant's life cycle.
The fruit of Reed Canary Grass in the UK consists of small seeds. These seeds develop within the spike, the cylindrical flowering structure of the grass. As the flowering phase progresses, the seeds mature, and the spike becomes a seed head. The seeds are typically small, light, and dispersed by various means, including wind and water. Reed Canary Grass reproduces both through seed dispersal and vegetative means, with the seeds being an essential part of its reproductive strategy. The mature seeds contribute to the plant's ability to colonize and establish itself in different habitats.
The leaves of Reed Canary Grass in the UK are flat and elongated, with a characteristic lanceolate shape. They are typically around 1 to 2.5 centimetres wide. The leaves exhibit parallel venation, and their surface is smooth. The colour of the leaves can range from green to bluish-green. The stems are hollow and often have a reddish tint. Reed Canary Grass has a dense and robust growth of leaves, contributing to its overall appearance and its ability to form dense stands in various habitats, particularly in wetland areas and along watercourses.
Reed Canary Grass does not typically have a distinctive fragrance. Unlike some plants known for their aromatic qualities, Reed Canary Grass is primarily valued for its visual characteristics rather than any notable scent. The focus on this grass is often on its habitat, growth patterns, and ecological impact rather than any aromatic properties. Therefore, it is not sought after for its fragrance in the same way that some other plants are.
Other Names:
Canary Grass, Gardener's Garters, Reedgrass, Ribbon Grass, Speargrass.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Phalaris arundinacea, also known as reed canary grass, is a species of grass native to Europe and Asia. It is a tall, perennial grass that can grow up to 2 meters tall, it has wide, flat leaf blades and a seedhead that is about 30-60 cm long, composed of several long, narrow spikes that are feathery and have a purplish tinge.

It is commonly found in wetland habitats such as marshes, swamps, and along streams and rivers, it also thrives on poorly drained soils and can tolerate a range of soil types. It can be a valuable forage grass for grazing animals but also considered as an invasive species in some areas, displacing native vegetation and reducing biodiversity. In some areas, it can form dense stands, which can negatively impact wetland ecosystems, reduce water quality and flood control.

It can be controlled through mechanical and chemical methods, but it can be difficult to eradicate. It is important to consider the potential negative effects of planting this grass species in natural areas, it's recommended to use alternative, non-invasive grass species as an alternative. It can be used as a ornamental grass in gardens and landscaping and also used for soil erosion control, with the right management it can be a valuable plant.


Reed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea) is a tall, perennial grass native to Europe and Asia, but now widely distributed in North America as an invasive species. It has become a common sight in wetlands, pastures, and along roadsides. Reed Canary Grass can grow up to six feet tall, with flat, broad leaves and long, dense seed heads. While it may be a visually striking plant, it can have serious impacts on the ecosystem if left unchecked.

One of the most significant problems with Reed Canary Grass is its ability to outcompete native plant species for resources. Because it grows so quickly and spreads so easily, it can quickly dominate an area, leaving little room for other plants to thrive. This can lead to a loss of biodiversity, as well as a decrease in food and habitat for native animals.

Reed Canary Grass is also able to change the physical characteristics of wetland habitats. It can alter the water table and soil structure, which can have cascading effects on other plants and animals. Additionally, Reed Canary Grass can release allelopathic compounds that can inhibit the growth of other plants.

Despite its negative impacts, there are some potential benefits to Reed Canary Grass. It is a common forage crop for livestock, and it is also used in erosion control and for bioenergy production. However, it is important to manage Reed Canary Grass carefully to minimize its negative impacts on the environment.

There are a number of methods that can be used to control Reed Canary Grass. These include manual removal, herbicide treatments, and controlled burns. However, it can be difficult to eradicate completely, and ongoing management efforts may be necessary to prevent it from reestablishing itself.

Reed Canary Grass is a species that is very adaptable to different environmental conditions. It can grow in a variety of soil types, ranging from wet to moderately dry. This makes it particularly troublesome in wetland habitats, where it can quickly take over and outcompete native wetland species.

One of the reasons that Reed Canary Grass is so successful at invading wetland habitats is that it is able to tolerate fluctuating water levels. It has a deep root system that can reach water sources far below the surface, and it is able to withstand periods of drought and flooding.

Another characteristic that makes Reed Canary Grass a difficult plant to manage is its ability to spread quickly through underground rhizomes. These rhizomes allow the plant to rapidly expand its coverage area, even in the absence of seeds or other reproductive structures.

Reed Canary Grass is also known to have a high biomass production rate. This means that it can produce a large amount of plant material in a short period of time, which can make it a useful crop for bioenergy production. However, its rapid growth rate also means that it can quickly become invasive if not managed properly.

There are a variety of strategies that can be employed to manage and control the spread of Reed Canary Grass. One approach is to manually remove the plant, either by cutting or pulling it up by the roots. This can be effective for small infestations, but can be time-consuming and labor-intensive for larger areas.

Herbicide treatments can also be used to control the spread of Reed Canary Grass. Selective herbicides that target the species specifically can be effective, but care must be taken to avoid harming other plant species in the area.

Controlled burns can also be used to manage Reed Canary Grass. This can be particularly effective in wetland habitats, where the plant's above-ground tissue can be destroyed by the fire while the underground rhizomes are left intact. This can cause the plant to regenerate, but subsequent burns can help to weaken and ultimately eradicate the species.

Prevention is another important strategy for managing the spread of Reed Canary Grass. This can include avoiding the planting of the species in landscaping or restoration projects, and taking steps to prevent the spread of seeds or rhizomes into new areas.

In addition to these strategies, ongoing monitoring and management efforts are necessary to prevent the re-establishment of Reed Canary Grass in previously infested areas. This may include repeated treatments with herbicides or controlled burns, and regular manual removal of new growth.

In conclusion, while Reed Canary Grass may be visually striking, its negative impacts on the environment can be significant. By employing a variety of management and control strategies, we can help to prevent the spread of this invasive species and protect the health of our ecosystems.

30 Facts About Reed Canary Grass

  1. Scientific Name: Reed Canary Grass is scientifically known as Phalaris arundinacea.

  2. Habitat: It is a cool-season perennial grass that is native to Europe, Asia, and North America.

  3. Height: Reed Canary Grass can grow up to 6.6 feet (2 meters) tall.

  4. Appearance: The grass has flat, broad leaves that are typically around 0.4 to 1 inch (1-2.5 cm) wide.

  5. Stems: Stems of Reed Canary Grass are hollow, erect, and often have a reddish tint.

  6. Adaptability: It is known for its adaptability to various soil types, including wetlands and disturbed areas.

  7. Invasive Species: In some regions, Reed Canary Grass is considered invasive, outcompeting native vegetation.

  8. Root System: It has a robust rhizomatous root system, helping it spread and establish colonies.

  9. Flowering: The grass produces compact, cylindrical flower heads in late spring to early summer.

  10. Seeds: Reed Canary Grass reproduces both by seeds and vegetative means through its rhizomes.

  11. Wildlife Habitat: Despite its invasive nature, the grass can provide habitat for various wildlife species.

  12. Erosion Control: Due to its dense growth, it is often used for erosion control along waterways.

  13. Forage: Historically, it has been used as forage for livestock, although the quality may decline with age.

  14. Alkaloids: Some varieties of Reed Canary Grass contain alkaloids that can be toxic to livestock.

  15. Bioenergy: It has been explored for bioenergy production due to its rapid growth and high biomass.

  16. Fiber Content: The grass has been studied for its potential as a fiber source in paper and construction materials.

  17. Water Purification: Reed Canary Grass is known for its ability to absorb excess nutrients, making it useful for water purification in wetland restoration projects.

  18. Cultural Uses: In some cultures, Reed Canary Grass has historical uses in thatching roofs.

  19. Invasiveness: Control measures are often needed to manage its invasive tendencies in certain ecosystems.

  20. Drought Tolerance: It exhibits a degree of drought tolerance, making it adaptable to varying moisture conditions.

  21. Phytoremediation: Some studies suggest its potential in phytoremediation, helping to clean up polluted sites.

  22. Nitrogen Uptake: Reed Canary Grass is efficient in taking up nitrogen from the soil, impacting nutrient cycling.

  23. Agricultural Challenges: Its invasiveness poses challenges for agricultural lands, reducing crop yields.

  24. Perennial Growth: Being a perennial grass, it returns year after year, impacting ecosystems over the long term.

  25. Restoration Efforts: Despite its invasive nature, there are ongoing efforts to restore native vegetation in areas dominated by Reed Canary Grass.

  26. Culinary Uses: In some regions, young shoots of Reed Canary Grass are edible and have been used in traditional cuisines.

  27. Wetland Stabilization: Its ability to colonize wetlands aids in stabilizing these ecosystems.

  28. Allelopathy: Reed Canary Grass releases chemicals that can inhibit the growth of other plant species, affecting biodiversity.

  29. Early Growth: It establishes quickly, creating dense stands that can outcompete other vegetation.

  30. Phenotypic Variation: There is considerable phenotypic variation among different populations of Reed Canary Grass, influencing its ecological impact.


Reed Canary Grass filmed at the following locations:
  • Lytham St. Anne's, Lancashire: 12th June 2023
  • Capernwray, Lancashire: 17th June 2023
  • Rydal Water, Cumbria: 17th June 2023
  • Adlington, Lancashire: 22nd June 2023

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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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