Phalaris 1 Phalaris 2

Pictured above: Phalaris arundinacea

This is a rhizomatous perennial in which the stems are often densely clustered. Leaves are glabrous with long membranous ligules. The spikelets have one terminal fertile floret with usually two (sometimes only one) sterile florets. These appear as much shorter membranous scales below the fertile floret (easily overlooked). The glumes are generally compressed with obvious keels.

There are 2 species in MN; 1 is native.

Common species:
Phalaris arundinacea (fah' lah ris ah run dih nay' see ah)

  • Synonyms: None
  • Common names: reed canary grass, ribbon grass, sword grass
  • Origin and habitat: Cosmopolitan in distribution; moist habitats such as roadside ditches, lakeshores, etc. and occasionally in adjacent forests
  • Identifying characters: Lower internodes are often pinkish and ligules are 1-5 mm long with a felt-like pubescence on the back. Inflorescences are narrow panicles with overlapping branches and often purplish spikelets. The inflorescence spreads at pollination. Lemmas are unawned but with an acute apex.
  • Comments: In its natural habitat reed canary grass spreads easily and can become densely colonial. Rhizomes make this a good soil stabilizer. Seed from Europe has been widely used for hay and pasturage and is thought to be more invasive than native types. There are no morphological clues to distinguish the native forms from the introduced. Variegated forms (cv. 'ribbon grass' var. picta) have been common in gardens for many, many years and were mentioned in some of the earliest herbals. Used for contrast in mid-height border gardens, these forms tend to be less florific than green forms.


Phalaris Map

Additional species in Minnesota:
Phalaris canariensis

Copyright 2002, A.F. Cholewa, J.F. Bell Museum of Natural History, University of Minnesota / No portion of this guide may be duplicated without written permission of author.