Reed Canarygrass

Credit: 
Percy Folkard, BC FLNR
Credit: 
JRJ
Scientific name: 

Phalaris arundinacea L.

Type: 
Native Grass
Annual precip. min (mm): 
350
Annual precip. max (mm): 
600
Seed size: 
Small
Seeds per kg: 
1,175,000
Typical seeding objectives: 
PR Suitability note: 
Reed canarygrass is suited to the Peace Region.
Key considerations: 
Although included as a native species in this database, most sources of reed canarygrass are agronomic introductions. These have hybridized with native populations to form invasive types of this species. Should not be used where there is a native plant community objective.
General Description: 

Reed canarygrass is a well-adapted, long-lived, cool season, perennial native grass. It grows well in wet areas but also can tolerate some drier areas.

Extensive sod-forming root systems are produced by crowns below the soil surface. The plant may appear to be bunched but actually produces large diameter, short rhizomes, which in turn produce new shoots and roots.

Stems are coarse and erect, growing up to 200 cm (79 in.) tall. Leaves are pale green, large, flat, and wide up to 20 mm (3/4 in.) wide.

The spikelets of the seed head cluster alternately up the stem, producing purplish flowers. Seeds are shiny, flattened, and small, about 4 mm long. Seed shatters very easily, and germination ability declines soon after being shed.

Origin: 
Native to North America, including British Columbia, Europe, and Asia. Varieties introduced for pasture and other uses in Canada originate from both North America and Europe. It is thought the hybridization of introduced and North American types has produced aggressive plants in central and western North America.
Distribution: 
This grass is common throughout southern British Columbia, in particular, the Coastal Douglas-fir and Sub-Boreal Pine-Spruce zones.
Habitat and climate: 
This grass often grows on wet sites, and can indicate high soil moisture conditions where periodic flooding can occur for extended periods of time.
Uses: 
It is commonly used for pasture, hay—especially in wet meadows—and for erosion control. Reed canarygrass has also been grown for seed in the Peace Region. It was once used to weave mats for drying food and hats by the Okanagan people. A type of rope was also used to bind fishing weirs.
Optimal time of grazing use: 
Young stands should not be grazed until they are well established and have developed a dense sod. Established stands can be grazed several times during the season, if kept in vegetative growth stages. As soon as reed canarygrass heads out, stems mature and become coarse causing a sharp decline in palatability.
Recovery after use (rating): 
H
Recovery after use: 
If allowed to regrow to 30 cm (12 in.) before regrazing, reed canarygrass can be grazed 2 to 3 times during grazing season. Sod-forming stands resist animal traffic and hoof action.
Forage yield (rating): 
H
Forage yield: 
Yields 5,000 kg/ha (4,464 lb/acre) in northern prairie regions. Higher yields are possible on organic meadows in the B.C. interior with supplemental fertilization.
Palatability/Nutritional Value: 
Crude protein of 12 to 15% and digestibility ranges from 55 to 65% early in the season, but protein and digestibility drop dramatically later in the season. Use alkaloid-free varieties registered in Canada to avoid problems with livestock grazing and alkaloid toxicity.
Longevity (rating): 
H
Persistence (rating): 
H
Invasiveness (rating): 
H
Invasiveness: 
Invasiveness in many situations is considered moderate, but in southern British Columbia, and the U.S. Pacific Northwest it can escape from pastures and spread into riparian areas, waterways, and wetlands.
Competitiveness (rating): 
H
Competitiveness: 
Low competitiveness in early years, but highly competitive and aggressive once it is established.
Erosion control (rating): 
H
Erosion control: 
Thick sod and high competitive ability make this a good candidate for erosion control, especially in waterways and wetter areas.
Drought tolerance (rating): 
M
Winter hardiness (rating): 
H
Winter hardiness: 
Improved by allowing 4 weeks rest from grazing before killing frosts.
Soil texture preference (rating): 
FM
Soil texture preference: 
Reed canarygrass is suited to loams, clays, and peat soils in floodplains, creeks, sloughs, and riparian areas.
Flooding tolerance (rating): 
H
Flooding tolerance: 
Established reed canarygrass tolerates 5 to 8 weeks of flooding and grows well in waterlogged soils.
Salinity tolerance (rating): 
L
Acidity tolerance (rating): 
H
Acidity tolerance : 
Tolerates soil pH values as low as 5.0.
Ease of establishment (rating): 
L
Ease of establishment: 
Since the seedlings cannot tolerate flooding, late season seeding is optimal when soil moisture levels are lower and the chance of flooding is reduced. Stands can be thin in early years, but eventually fill in. When establishing new stands, use of pedigreed seed rather than common seed will reduce problems with alkaloids by ensuring that the alkaloid-free varieties are “true to variety”.
Management considerations: 
Older stands should be occasionally spiked, countered, or knifed to cut roots and rhizomes and stimulate new growth. Seek out newer, alkaloid-free varieties for forage uses, or carefully manage the grazing period to avoid alkaloid toxicity in animals. Fencing wetter areas with reed canarygrass separately can help ensure that these areas are grazed early enough for maximum palatability. Watch for alkaloid issues in stands established before the development of newer alkaloid-free varieties, especially in leaves regrown during drought stress.