Reed canary grass has been planted throughout the U.S. since the 1800s for forage and erosion control. It is a perennial grass that grows in wetlands, ditch banks, moist fields, and along roadsides. It can outcompete most native species in natural wetlands and presents a major challenge for restoration in wetland mitigation efforts.
There has recently been in-depth research on which populations of reed canary grass in Minnesota are native and which are non-native. Findings from the University of Minnesota indicate that reed canary grass populations along the rivers they sampled in Minnesota are likely predominantly native. The DNR is maintaining this webpage about reed canary grass as the page assists with identification of reed canary grass and provides management advice. Regardless of origins, reed canary grass can form dense, dominant cover and require control when there are management goals related to maintaining or restoring other plant species. For example, re-establishment of trees is very challenging in dense reed canary grass stands.
Reed canary grass is a coarse, cool season grass that grows 2 - 6 feet tall. Reed canary grass is one of the first grasses to sprout in the spring.
Leaves and stem
The grass blades are flat and rough on top and bottom. They gradually tapering from the base to the tip, and are up to 10 inches long and 1/4 inch–1/3 inch wide. It has a very transparent membrane where the leaf blade attaches to the stem, which is called a ligule. Reed canary grass has hairless stems that stand upright or erect.
Flowers are densely clustered single florets that can range in color from green to purple and typically fade to beige in late summer or fall. Reed canary grass blooms from May to mid-June.
Seeds ripen in late June. They are dispersed via waterways, animals, humans, and machines.
Reed canary grass also reproduces vegetatively through horizontal stems growing below the soil surface, called rhizomes. These create a thick, impenetrable mat at or directly below the soil surface.
Reed canary grass is a perennial grass that grows in wetlands, ditch banks, moist fields, and along roadsides. Disturbed wetlands are most susceptible to invasion.
Origin and spread
This Eurasian species has been planted throughout the U.S. since the 1800s for forage and erosion control. While many Minnesota state agencies have removed it from their planting lists, it is still being planted in the state by private landowners. Invasion is associated with disturbances, such as ditch building, stream channeling, sedimentation and intentional planting. Visit EDDMapS to see current distribution.
Don't be fooled by these look-alikes
- Native reed grasses, Calamagrostis canadensis, C. coarctata (native) – Reed canary grass looks similar to some native reedgrasses, but can be distinguished based on its larger size (greater than 6 feet vs. 4 feet), a more prominent center vein on the upper side of the leaf, and large, thin, membranous ligules. This document contains details on distinguishing reed canary grass from native reedgrasses.
- Orchard grass, Dactylis glomerata (nonnative) – Orchard grass has longer ligules (0.1-0.5 inches) and narrower leaves (0.1-0.3 inches wide) than reed canary grass.
- Regulatory classification
This species is not regulated.
- Threat to Minnesota
- Reed canary grass forms large, single-species stands and deposits a thick layer of thatch that suppresses other plants.
- It can outcompete most native species in natural wetlands and presents a major challenge for restoration in wetland mitigation efforts.
- Dense reed canary grass infestations reduce plant and insect biodiversity.
- What you should do
One way that invasive plant seeds and fragments can spread is in soil. Sometimes plants are planted purposefully. You can prevent the spread of invasive plants.
- REMOVE plants, animals & mud from boots, gear, pets & vehicles.
- CLEAN your gear before entering & leaving the recreation site.
- STAY on designated roads & trails.
- PLANT non-invasive species.
- Native Substitutes
- Control Methods
Mechanical control can be done by mowing in mid-June and October to reduce seed production and encourage native species. If cut during the growing season, reed canary grass will have a second growth spurt in the fall, so multiple mowings per year are necessary. Consecutive annual burns in spring or fall can be effective at reducing populations. Small patches can be hand-pulled, dug with a shovel, or covered with black plastic for at least one growing season.
Herbicide control can be done using glyphosate (e.g., Rodeo). If the plants are in or near a wet area, be sure to use an herbicide formulation approved for use near water. This is a systemic herbicide that is taken up by plants and moves within the plant, which can kill leaves, stems, and roots. Preliminary research indicates that fall chemical application may be most effective.
- Reed canary grass management guide (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)
- Reed canary grass management recommendations (Minnesota Board of Water and Soil resources)
- Reed canary grass identification and management (Southeastern Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium)
- To distinguish reed canary grass from native reedgrasses (Delaware Department of Agriculture)