canary grass
Phalaris canariensis L.

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Canary grass, as the name implies, is native to the Canary Islands (as well as southern Europe), but it has become widespread as an introduction. Canary grass is commonly grown for bird seed and it forms a portion of commercial seed mixtures fed to caged birds, so it is no surprise that its occurrence has expanded. In Iowa, plants may be found in areas where household refuse is dumped, although it appears that canary grass is not able to maintain itself from year to year in the wild under our conditions. Our most recent documented record is from 1964 in Johnson Co., but canary grass can probably still be found if you look for it.

The small, dense, egg-shaped flowering heads and green-and white-striped, broadly winged glumes are distinctive and this tufted annual is not likely to be easily confused with anything else should it be discovered. It flowers from June into August.


Etymology: Phalaris from an old Greek name = grass; canariensis from the Latin referring to the Canary Islands, where this species is native.


Plants annual. Culms 20-90 cm, 1-3 mm in diameter, tufted. Leaves with the sheaths open, smooth; ligules 2-9 mm, membranous, often irregularly cut or folded over; blades 5-28 cm long, 3-11 mm wide, flat. Flowering heads (1.5-) 2-4.5 cm long, (1-) 1.5-2 cm wide, egg-shaped to oblong. Spikelets (3.5-) 5-8 mm long, 3-6 (-7.5) mm wide, more or less ovate in outline,laterally compressed; glumes subequal, 3.5-8 mm long, acute, keeled and broadly winged, green- and white-striped; sterile florets 2, 2.7-3.4 mm long, smooth; lemmas 4.2-5.2 mm long, hairy although may be smooth toward the base, shiny, hard, acute, lacking awns. Chromosome number 2n = 12.


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