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Reed canary grass (Not recommended)

A stand of reed canary grass.

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. 


This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.


Botanical name:

Phalaris arundinacea

All common names:

Reed canary grass, ribbon grass

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Grass

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Landscape Uses:

  • Container

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 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil,
  • Wet soil


  • Wet sites

Seasons of Interest:

  • mid spring,
  • late spring,
  • early summer,
  • midsummer,
  • late summer,
  • early fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Other

Shape or Form:

  • Upright

More Information:

Size and Form

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

Plant Care

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.

Disease, pests, and problems

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

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 packed densely on a long spike.

Fruit description

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

Cultivars and their differences

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.  Two to three feet tall.

Picta ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea var. picta):   A low-growing (one foot) form with green and white striped leaves.

Location of Phalaris arundinacea (Reed canary grass (Not recommended)) at the Arboretum

We do not seem to have this in our living collection.