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Phalaris arundinacea L.

Syn.: Phalaris japonica Steud.
Reed canarygrass

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 unpublished.

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


Reed canarygrass produces nutritious, palatable, succulent herbage for pasture, silage, and hay. It is the most popular species for irrigation with pollution control sewage effluent from municipal and industrial sources as practice. Also used on stream beds gully bottoms, on sloughs, pond banks, swamplands of muck or peat nature, but it makes an excellent growth on upland sites as well. One of the earliest grasses to begin growth in spring. Considered a good forage plant in Sweden as early as 1749, and much seed used elsewhere has been introduced from there (Reed, 1976). Seed is used for birdseed (C.S.I.R., 1948–1976).

Folk Medicine

According to Hager's Handbook (List and Horhammer, 1969–1979), the leaves were once used in medicine, a practice seemingly abandoned.


Per 100 g, the hay is reported to contain on a zero-moisture basis (ZMB), 0 g H2O, 8.8 g protein, 2.2 g fat, 81.8 g total carbohydrate, 34.3 g fiber, 7.2 g ash, 340 mg Ca, and 250 mg P. The Wealth of India (C.S.I.R., 1948–1976) reports (ZMB) 14.5% protein, 2.2% EE, 41.1% carbohydrates, 30.2% CF, 10.2% mineral matter, 0.79% CaO, and 0.98% P2O5. Roots contain cyanidin- and paeonidin-3-arabinoside (List and Horhammer, 1969–1979).


Contains hordenine and 5-methoxy-N-methyl tryptamine. Certain unpalatable strains contain gramine (C11H14N2). Selenium may be present at 0.005 ppm (Susaki, Ishida, and Kawashima, 1980). Other amines are mentioned in Hager's Handbook (List and Horhammer, 1969–1979).


Perennial, tall, robust, rather coarse, spreading extensively by creeping rhizomes, but when growing thin or volunteer may form clumps 0.6–1 m across; culms 0.6–2.2 m tall, rather stout with 6–10 nodes; leaf-blades flat, glaucous-green, often scabrous on both surfaces, 20–30 cm long, 8–15 mm broad, glabrous; ligules prominent, papery, truncate, 2–3 mm long; panicles 5–20 cm long, 1–3 mm wide, erect, semi-dense, cylindrical, sometimes spikelike, whitish, pale green or purplish, branches erect or ascending, single or in pairs, the branchlets short, densely spiculose; spikelets 4–5 mm long, ovate, flattened, appressed to branchlets, very acute; glumes equal, short-acuminate, folded, scabrous, keel with very narrow wing above; florets lanceolate-ovate, 3–3.5 mm long, the attached sterile lemmas minute, villous; anthers 1.5–2 mm long; caryopsis gray, brown to gray-black, shining or waxy, flax-like, about 3 mm long; maturing from top of panicle downward, quickly scattering at maturity. Fl. May–June. Seeds 1,175,256/kg. (Reed, 1976).


Reported from the Eurosiberian Center of Diversity, reed canarygrass, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate disease, drought, fungi, high pH, low pH, muck, mycobacteria, nematodes, peat, salt, sewage irrigation, slope, virus, waterlogging, and weeds (Duke, 1978). Relatively few cultivars have been developed. Those developed in United States or Canada include the following: 'Superior' and 'Ioreed' are superior seed producers, not shattering readily, the former being used mainly in upland sites; 'Auburn' (Alabama) and 'Poise' (Iowa) are highly disease resistant and have high seed retention; 'Frontier' and 'Grove', developed in Ontario, are late maturing and leafy; 'Vantage' (Iowa) has good seed retention and is a little earlier than 'Rise' in Iowa; 'Castor' (Alberta) has high seed retention, but otherwise similar to 'Frontier'. Phalaris arundinacea var. picta L. (Ribbon-grass) has variegated leaves and is sometimes cultivated as an ornamental, infrequently blooming (2n = 14, 28, 42) (Reed, 1976; Duke 1978)


Native to temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North America, and in North Africa. Widely introduced in cooler regions of northern hemisphere. Adapted to northern half of United States and southern Canada, with largest acreage in Oregon, Washington, and northern California, east to Michigan and Iowa (Reed, 1976). Cited as a serious or principle weed in Afghanistan, Hungary, Indonesia. Japan, Korea, Mauritius, New Zealand, and Poland (Holm et al., 1979).


Ranging from Boreal Moist to Wet through Subtropical Dry to Wet Forest Life Zones, reed canarygrass is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 3 to 26 dm (mean of 61 cases = 8.0), annual temperature of 5 to 23°C(mean of 61 = 10.5) and pH of 4.5 to 8.2 (mean of 52 = 6.3) (Duke, 1978). A cool-season grass, often found in low-lying, mashy meadows and pastures liable to flooding. Still it is moderately drought-resistant. Also grows on fertile upland soils in humid areas. Grows best on moist sandy soils, rich in organic matter, but also on fertile loams and clays. Very tolerant to flooding, ranging in days to spring flooding: mature plants 49 days or more; seedlings, 35–49; seed, 35–56. Not adapted to saline soils. Leaves are killed by temperature not low enough to kill leaves of timothy or Kentucky bluegrass. Does not perform well in subtropical or tropical climates. Net photosynthesis is maximum at air temperatures of about 20°C and is reduced to 80% of maximum at 38°C (Reed, 1976). Will tolerate 3–6 millimhos salinity (5–8 on gypsiferous soils).


Propagated by seed and spreads vegetatively by stout creeping rootstocks. Requires well-prepared, clean seedbed, or may be sown in ashes after burning scrub. Spring sowings are best; seeds germinate easily; seedlings must be well established before frost-heaving or flooding. In Europe, occasionally sown in areas liable to winter and spring flooding, but seed germination is slow and uneven. Drilled or broadcast at rate of 4–7 kg/ha, covered only 0.6–1.3 cm. With 80% germination, seeding rate of 6–10 kg/ha is usually adequate on a firm seedbed to establish a crop. Autumn sowings are satisfactory in areas with mild winters, particularly in burned-over land or poorly drained areas and can be successful if seeds do not germinate until spring. Pure stands respond to large dressings of nitrogen, lime, and other fertilizers, but soils should be tested first. Legumes are not easily maintained in mixtures; 'Ladino' clover is satisfactory in United States, provided the grass is not allowed to grow above 30–40 cm tall. Seeds and seedlings not so tolerant of drought as Russian wild rye or orchardgrass (Reed, 1976).


Seeds shatter easily, and heads are often harvested by hand and cured on racks or a barn floor; best cut with binder or header or combined when 40–50% seed brown. Plants should be mowed or grazed sufficiently to prevent excessive growth that is tough and unpalatable. The growing season is very long as growth starts after last spring frost. Heavy yields of rather coarse hay are difficult to cure. Further, the grass does not persist under continuous close grazing. If required for hay, it is best to graze once, early in season, so as to increase proportion of leafy growth, discourage production of coarse stems and postpone hay-making until higher temperatures make curing easier. Should be mowed for hay when just coming into flower (Reed, 1976).

Yields and Economics

Reed canarygrass is one of the highest yielding perennial grasses used for fodder in its area of adaptation. Maximum yields obtained by rotational grazing, with herbage not exceeding 30–45 cm tall, may yield 8–18 MT DM/ha/yr; in US 9–20 MT/ha, out-yielding bromegrass in some areas (Reed, 1976). Yields of seed when broadcast, 50–150 kg/ha; drilled in rows, 80–200 kg/ha. In Hungary, fresh yields of 150–160 MT/ha WM were obtained from 3 cuts on deep, periodically flooded, wet soils (Kiss, 1977). Reed canarygrass has become an increasingly popular grass in the Pacific Northwest and in Canada. Its primary value is as a pasture grass and as an erosion control grass in areas of municipal and industrial sewage effluent areas (Reed, 1976).


According to the phytomass files (Duke, 1981b), annual productivity ranges from 8 to 20 MT/ha. Other DM yields reported include1–8 MT/ha/yr from Phalaris aquatica (Duke, 1981b).

Biotic Factors

Many fungi have been reported on reed canarygrass, including: Asteromella phalaridis, Beloniella graminis, Cladosporium graminum, C. velutinum, Claviceps microcephala, Coniothyrium phalaridis, Dilophospora alopecuri, Entuloma brefeldii, E. smarodsii, Fusarium acuminatum, Gloeosporium bolleyi, Helminthosporiumn oryzae, H. teres, Hendersonia culmicola, Heterosporium phragmitis, Leptosphaeria culmicola, L. culmifraga, L. microscopica, L. fuckelii, L. larseniana, L. sparas, Macrophoma physalospora, Macroseptoria moravica, Metasphaeria oxyspora, M. phalaridis, M. typhoidis, Mollisia arundinacea, M. phalaridis, Mycosphaerella chlorina, M. graminicola, Oidium monilioides, Ophiobolus cariceti, O. paludosus, Ovularia hordei, Pellicularia filamentosa, Phaeospharria vagans, Phyllosticta crastiphila, Physoderma gerhardti, Puccinia allii-phalaridis, P. brevicornis, P. chlorantha, P. glumarum, P. orchidearum-phalaridis, P. schmidtiana, P. sessilis, P. smilacearum-digraphidis, P. striiformis, P. winteriana, Pythium arrhenomanes var. canadensis, Rhizoctonia solani, Sclerophomina phalaridis, Sclerophthora macrospora, S. kriegeriana, Sclerotinia menieri, Septoria arundinacea, Siroscyphellina arundinacea, Stagonospora vexata, Tilletia striaeformis, T. menieri, Uromyces phalaridis, Ustilago macrospora, U. vestergreni, U. echinata, U. hypodytes, and U. striaeformis. Nematodes isolated from this grass include: Anguina agrostis, Heterodera avenae, Pratylenchus neglectus, P. penetrans, and Tylenchus phalaridis (Reed, 1976). The flowers are cross pollinated.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Wednesday, January 7, 1998 by aw