Reed Canary Grass Flower
Infestation of reed canary grass


Appearance: Perennial coarse cool season grass that grows 2 – 6′ high. It had been especially selected for its vigor, and is one of the first to sprout in spring. Erect hairless stems.

Leaf blades: 1⁄4″-1⁄3″ wide, gradually tapering, up to 10″ long. It has a highly transparent ligule (a membrane where blade and sheath meet) which distinguishes it from the native bluejoint grass.

Flowers: Densely clustered single florets, green to purple changing to beige over time, blooms May to mid-June.

Roots: Reproduces vegetatively through horizontal stems growing below the soil surface, called rhizomes, creating a thick impenetrable mat at or directly below the soil surface.

Reason’s Reed Canary Grass is a Problem:

  • Reed canary is a major threat to natural wetlands. It out competes most native species.
  • One of the first plants to sprout in spring.
  • It forms large, single-species stands, with which other species cannot compete.
  • If cut during the growing season a second growth spurt occurs in the fall.
  • Established populations can survive prolonged drought and can survive over one year of flooding, especially if parts of the plant are not submerged.
  • It is still being planted throughout the US for forage and erosion control.

Other Info:

Reed canary grass can grow on dry soils in upland habitats and in the partial shade of oak woodlands, but does best on fertile, moist organic soils in full sun. It is a major problem in natural wetlands and invaded areas are of decreased value to wildlife. Although reed canary grass produces large amounts of seed its highest success rates for reproduction are from rhizomes. The seeds and rhizomes can be dispersed in animal fur, on human clothing or on automobiles, but are most often spread through water. Reed canary grass seedlings do not appear to be highly competitive with perennial native species, meaning that healthy, established native ecosystems are not at a high risk; invasion is associated with disturbances such as ditch building and stream channeling causing sedimentation and changes in water chemistry from stormwater. Reed canary grass can be found in small patches in the Arboretum prairies, and in a number of places in the floodplain of the Cannon River.

Cowling Arboretum Procedures for Removal:

The small patches of reed canary grass on the prairies are treated with direct herbicide application. To date no control has been attempted in the floodplain areas.