Plant Guide > Grasses > Reed Canary Grass

Reed Canary Grass


Phalaris arundinacea L.

A broad ribbon of dull rose often borders the winding streams and brooks of June when, for a few weeks, the Reed Canary-grass blooms. In spikelets and lightly poised anthers this grass offers most attractive colouring, and even before flowering the dense growth of blue-green leaves is noticed in marked contrast to the lighter colour of the marsh.

A stout perennial with creeping rootstocks, this grass grows most luxuriantly in wet meadows and in shallow water, where the profusion of leaves, which are always darker in colour than the smooth and shining stems, forms a mass of verdure shoulder-high.

In bloom the short branches of the panicles spread from the stem, but they are soon drawn closely to it again as the flowers fade, and in the ripening head the fungus commonly known as ergot often appears as black spurs issuing from between the scales.

The true Canary-grass (Phalaris canariensis), cultivated in Europe for the seeds, which have been used as a cereal as well as for bird food, has been introduced in this country and may now be found in waste places. The short, thick spikes are about an inch in length and are strikingly marked by their white and green scales.

Under the names of Ribbon-grass, Lady's Ribbons, Gardeners' Garters, Painted-grass, and French-grass, a variety of the Reed Canary was planted in the gardens of earlier days. Gerard, in his "HerbaIl," describes the leaves of this plant as fashioned "like to laces or ribbons woven of white or greene silke, very beautiful and fair to behold," and these striped leaves with their rare, silver-like lustre, are occasionally found by our waysides where grass has escaped from cultivation.

Reed Canary-grass. Phalaris arundinacea L.

Stem 2-5 ft. tall, stout, erect. Sheaths smooth. Ligule 1"-2" long. Leaves 4'-12' long, 3"-9" wide, roughish, flat.

Panicle 3'-8' long, densely flowered, open in flower, contracted before and after blossoming. Spikelets 1-flowered, 2 1/2"-3" long, green strongly tinged with rose-purple. Scales 5; Outer scales rough, about equal; 3d and 4th scales reduced to hairy rudiments; flowering scale hairy. Stamens 3, anthers yellow or lavender.

Moist ground and shallow water. June to August.

Nova Scotia to British Columbia, south to Maryland, Tennessee, and Arizona.