reed canary grass (beardgrass, blue joint, turkey foot)
Phalaris arundinacea L

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Reed canary grass is native to north temperate regions, found in Asia, Europe, and North America, where it favors wetter habitats. In Iowa, reed canary grass occurs throughout the state although it is not formally documented from all counties. It is common on marshy ground, the edges of lakes and ponds, and in ditches; it is particularly abundant along the flood plains of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. It flowers from late May into July. There is some debate about whether this species is native to North America, but certainly different ecotypes of the species have been introduced in plantings for erosion control, for nutrient and water filtering in agricultural systems, and for forage (Plants database). Reed canary grass is noted for its running rhizomes that allow it to form dense colonies and inhibit the growth of other vegetation in wetlands. Due to its aggressive behavior, it is considered to be weedy and its use in management of wetlands and other areas has declined.

In addition to its running, scaly rhizomes, reed canary grass is relatively tall, reaching up to 2 m in height. It has smooth, open leaf sheaths; long, flat leaf blades; and a prominent but filmy ligule. The flowering heads are fairly dense and more or less cylindrical but the branches tend to spread out toward pollination time, giving a more open look. The glumes are well developed (but without wings) and enclose the single shiny, straw-colored fertile floret that becomes darker as the grain matures within it. Reed canary grass is easily distinguished from canary grass (Phalaris canariensis), which is an annual (thus it lacks rhizomes) that has a very dense, egg-shaped flowering head and broadly winged glumes. Reed canary grass might be mistaken for one of our species of Alopecurus (among the grasses called foxtails), which also often occur in wet areas. Species of Alopecurus, however, all have awns on the lemmas and the plants are much less robust. Another species with some similarities to reed canary grass is northern reedgrass (Calamagrostis stricta subsp. inexpansa). But northern reedgrass has narrower blades (up to 4 mm wide as opposed to 6-23 mm in reed canary grass) and awned lemmas with hairs at the base (as contrasted with the unawned lemmas that are smooth at the base in reed canary grass).


Etymology: Phalaris from an old Greek name = grass; arundinacea from the Latin arundo = reed and aceus = resembling, referring to the reed-like characteristics of this grass.


Plants perennial, with scaly running rhizomes. Culms 90-200 cm, 3-6 mm in diameter, erect or leaning below and then erect, hollow. Leaves with the sheaths open, smooth; ligules 2-7 mm, membranous, often irregularly cut or folded over; blades 21-40 cm long (flag leaves 6-11 cm long), (6-) 10-23 mm wide, flat. Flowering heads 8-23.5 cm long, (0.5-) 1-3.5 cm wide, appearing dense but usually branches distinguishable near the base, especially at pollination. Spikelets 4-6 mm long, 2-6 mm wide, more or less V-shaped,laterally compressed; glumes subequal, 4-6 mm long, acute, keeled but not winged (or with only a very narrow wing); sterile florets 2, 1-1.5 mm long, hairy; lemmas 3-4.2 mm long, smooth or with hairs present toward the tip, shiny, hard, acute, lacking awns. Chromosome number 2n = 14, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 35, 42.


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