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Arundo donax L.

Giant reed, Spanish cane

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Stems serve as support for vines and similar climbing plants, and for making trellises and the like for climbing cultivated plants. They are also used as measuring rods, walking sticks, fishing poles, musical instruments, baskets and mats. It makes a good quality of paper, and in Italy the plant is used in the manufacture of rayon. Variegated and glaucous-leaved varieties are used as ornamentals. Because of rather high yields from natural stands, cane has been suggested for biomass for energy. As fodder, only the young leaves are browsed; the stems are woody, and the grass unpalatable in later stages.

Folk Medicine

The rhizome or rootstock is used for dropsy. Boiled in wine with honey, the root or rhizome has been used for cancer. This or other species of Arundo is also reported to be used for condylomata and indurations of the breast. The root infusion is regarded as antigalactagogue, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, emollient, hypertensive, hypotensive, and sudorific (Duke and Wain, 1981).


Per 100 g, the green roughage is reported to contain on a zero moisture basis, 6.9 g protein, 1.3 g fat, 82.6 g total carbohydrate, 37.5 g fiber, 9.2 g ash, 0.49% Ca, 0.11% P, 2.55% K. Immature forage contains 12.2% CP, while forage in full bloom contains 6.9%, very mature forage 3.1–3.9% (Miller, 1958). Calcium analyses were 0.30–0.67%, P 0.08–0.15 g, K 2.04–3.19%, and Mg 0.20–0.30%. The alkaloid gramine is said to be a vasopressor, raising the blood pressure in dogs after small doses, causing a fall in larger doses. Reed of Chinese origin contains 50.3% cellulose and 15.7% lignin. It is said to be similar in action to d-pseudoephedrine. Detailed analyses are summarized by Perdue (1958) with emphasis on data of significance to the pulp industry. Fresh Chilean grass (84.6% DM) contains (ZMB): 6.6% CP, 31.8% CF, 13.9% ash, 2.0% EE, 45.7% NFE. In India, it contains 13.2% CP, 28.5% CF, 15.0% ash, 1.9% EE, 41.4% NFE; Indian hay contains 8.8% CP, 33.0% CF, 12.4% ash, 1.1% EE, 44.7% NFE (Gohl, 1981). Alpha-amyrin acetate, bufotenine, bufotenidine, campesterol, dehydro-bufotenine, N,N-dimethyltryptamine, donaxerin, friedelin, gramine, gramine methohydroxide, lupeol (anticancer), 5-metlioxy-N-methyl-tryptamine, sitosterol (antitumor), stigmasterol, triacontane and triacontanol have been reported.


Stout perennial grass, with thick, short, branched rhizomes; culms up to 6 m tall, arising from large knotty creeping rootstock, terete, 2–4 cm in diameter, smooth, hollow, reed-like, many-noded, often with a white scurf; leaves numerous, blades flat, smooth, 30–70 cm long, 2–7.5 cm broad on main stem, glaucous-green, drooping, tapering to a fine point; leaf-sheaths tightly cordate-clasping, hairy tufted at base; ligules truncate, 1–2 mm long, short-ciliate; panicle erect, large, contracted, feathery with silky hairs, light brown or yellowish-brown, 30–70 cm long, whitish with purple hue, slightly lustrous, branches scabrous; spikelets 8–16 mm long, 2–7-flowered; florets all bisexual except the reduced uppermost one; glumes equal, narrowly lanceolate, acuminate, 3-nerved, slightly longer than florets; lemmas lanceolate, 7–10 mm long, 3–5-veined with shorter veinlets between, 2-toothed at apex, with long white hairs on back; awn between the teeth at apex, 1–3 mm long, slender, erect; callus small, broadly ovate, with short hairs 1.5–2 mm long on both sides; palea one-half to two-thirds as long as lemma; anthers 2.5–3 mm long. Fl. Aug.–Nov.


Several cvs are cultivated as ornamentals. In Arundo donax var. variegate (var. versicolor, var. picta) the leaves are white-striped; in var. macrophylla, leaves are large and glaucous. (2n = 40)


Said to be native to the circummediterranean area to the Lower Himalayas from Kashmir to Nepal and Assams the Nilgiris and Coorg; introduced to many subtropical and warm temperate regions, where it is grown as an ornamental and is often found as a stray from cultivation.


Adapted to tropical, subtropical and warm temperate climates of the World. Often found on sand dunes near seashores. Tolerates some salt. Grows best along river banks and in other wet places, and is best developed in poor sandy soil and in sunny situations. Said to tolerate all types of soils, from heavy clays to loose sands and gravelly soils. Ranging from Cool Temperate Wet through Tropical Dry to Wet Forest Life Zones, giant reed is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 3 to 40 dm (mean of 112 cases = 13.0) annual temperature of 9 to 28.5°C (mean of 112 cases = 23.6) and pH of 5.0 to 8.7 (mean of 48 cases = 6.9) (Duke, 1975, 1979).


Propagated by divisions of the stout rhizomes, planting these where new plants are desired. Easily established and requires no care. Often quite aggressive in cultivated areas and on sand dunes.


Stems are harvested when desirous for use for paper-making, musical reeds, and other industrial purposes.

Yields and Economics

Dry cane yields of ca 10, 15, and 20 MT/ha were reported respectively from infertile, partly fertile and fertile soils in Argentina. Extensively used in areas of adaptation for purposes listed above under uses. Commonly grown in Europe, China, Japan and India, because of its usefulness. Industries based on fishing-poles, paper-making, rayon-making, and musical-reeds are the most important users of the stemy of this grass.


According to the phytomass files (Duke, 1981b) annual productivity ranges from 10 to 59 MT/ha, the latter figure from Westlake's (1963) estimate of 57–59 MT/ha/yr. In addendum, Westlake cites evidence that Arundo donax can produce 40–75 MT/ha/yr in warm temperate and tropical regions. Early vegetative growth has ME (metabolizable energy) of 2.22 megacalories/kg DM, while hay has an ME of only 1.37 (Gohl, 1981). Such annual productivity, if sustainable, makes this a notable energy candidate, especially when one considers the energy as a byproduct, with leaf protein and potential pharmaceutical as primary products.

Biotic Factors

Agriculture Handbook No. 165 lists the following as affecting this species: Armillaria mellea (root rot), Leptostroma donacis, Papularia sphaerosperma, Puccinia coronata (crown rust), and Selenophoma donacis (stem speckle).


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update December 29, 1997