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Reed canary grass has invasive traits that enable it to spread aggressively. Reed canary grass is an unusual species that is thought to be native to North America, Europe, and Asia, with different ecotypes existing on different continents. These ecotypes look identical but vary in their growth. Reed canary grass is considered invasive in many areas and it is thought that the more aggressive Eurasian ecotypes have outgrown and possibly replaced, or hybridized with the native ecotypes. Review of risks should be undertaken before selecting this plant. The various cultivars of this species are more commonly available than the species itself.

  • Family (English) Grass
  • Family (botanic) Poaceae
  • Tree or plant type Grass
  • Native locale Non-native
  • Size range Large plant (more than 24 inches)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs 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, Wet soil
  • Tolerances Wet sites
  • Season of interest mid spring, late spring, early summer, midsummer, late summer, early fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Other
  • Shape or form Upright

Size and Form: 

Reed canary grass is a cool-season, running grass that grows about 4 to 5 feet tall.

Native geographic location and habitat: 

Native to North America, Europe, and Asia.

Leaf description: 

The species has green leaves, but cultivated varieties often have variegated leaves.

Flower description: 

Numerous small, greenish-pink flowers are packed densely on a long spike.

Fruit description: 

The small fruit (caryopsis or grains) are formed on the dense spikes that held the flowers.

Plant care:

Plant in full sun to light shade. The native ecotypes are tolerant of wet sites, while the Eurasian ecotypes prefer moist, but not wet sites. If ornamental cultivars are planted in landscapes, it would be beneficial to remove flowering stalks to prevent self-seeding.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

No common pests.  It can be very aggressive as it spreads underground by rhizomes as well as by seeds.

Feesey’s ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea ‘Feesey’): 

Also sold as ‘Feesey’s Form’ and ‘Strawberries and Cream’. Green and white striped leaves, tinged with pink in spring and fall grow 2 to 3 feet tall.

Picta ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea var. picta):   

A low-growing form with green and white striped leaves.


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