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Canada wild rye is a native grass that was part of the tallgrass prairie.  It is a cool season, clumping grass, best used in areas where naturalizing is desirable as it has a tendency to self seed. This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Grass
  • Family (botanic) Poaceae
  • Tree or plant type Grass, Perennial
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large plant (more than 24 inches)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8
  • Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Dry sites, Occasional drought
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, late winter, early summer, midsummer, late summer, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Other
  • Shape or form Arching, Upright

Shape, size  or Form:

Canada wild rye normally grows 2 to 3 feet tall, but may reach 5 feet tall if moisture is adequate. Form is upright to upright-arching.

 Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 4. Native to most of North America and found in a variety of habitats.

Leaf description:

Alternate leaves are about 1/2 inch wide and 12 inches long, with a rough surface. The underside of the leaf may have a bluish tinge. Foliage turns tan in winter.

Flower description:

Flowering occurs in mid-summer. Tiny flowers are held in arched, drooping spikes and are bluish-green. Spikes feature long awns (bristles). 

Fruit description:

The small fruit (caryopsis or grains) are held in the arched drooping spikes. As the fruit matures, the awns (bristles) spread out and become more curved. Fruit is tan in fall and winter.

Plant care:

This grass will readily self-seed and fill in quickly, making it more appropriate for prairie plantings than for home flower beds. Full sun is best. It is tolerant of both moist and dry soils, but best growth occurs when moisture is adequate. This is a cool season grass, so its most active growth occurs in spring and fall.  Unlike many other cool season grasses, it will go dormant in  winter, but can still act as winter interest. It should not be cut back until early spring, before new growth begins. At that time, it can be cut down to the ground.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:   

This grass has no serious pest problems, but it can be a short-lived perennial. It is often used as a nurse crop in prairie establishment as it will grow and fill in quickly, but later die out and allow slower growing grasses to become dominant.


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