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Reed canarygrass spreads within established populations by creeping rhizomes ([80], reviews by [133,184,228,277]) and tillers [46,153,193,219] and colonizes new sites by seed (review by [184]). Ribbon grass may be sterile [14].

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Reed canarygrass rhizome fragments sprout in controlled environments [22,196] and likely do so in the wild. Reed canarygrass abundance in a monotypic stand was reduced 1 year after soil scarification, but plants continued to sprout from rhizome fragments [148]. Reed canarygrass regrows following cutting, mowing, or other types of damage ([82,148,161,260,301], review by [251]) probably from its rhizomes and possibly from its root crown.

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Fire adaptations: Reed canarygrass establishes rapidly after fire on sites where it occurs in the prefire plant community (see Plant response to fire), suggesting that it is adapted to survive and regenerate after fire. Few studies describe fire characteristics or indicate whether postfire establishment of reed canarygrass is from sprouting or seed germination.

Few studies have investigated the behavior, properties, and influence of wildfire in riparian areas. Riparian forests generally have more available moisture and may differ in understory vegetation, fuel loads, and fuel moisture from adjacent uplands. In these communities, especially in moist forest types, fire typically has longer return intervals and is less severe than in adjacent uplands [61].

One study in Minnesota found that reed canarygrass may be reduced when postfire herbicide treatments are timed to coincide with periods of optimal carbohydrate accumulation (see Seasonal development) to facilitate translocation of herbicide to rhizomes. To control a near monoculture of reed canarygrass, researchers combined May prescribed fire with various herbicide treatments. A native mix of graminoid and herbaceous species was seeded on the site shortly after the fire. Reed canarygrass biomass was reduced when fire was followed by either spring (mid-May) or fall (late August and late September) applications of herbicide. Reed canarygrass biomass was 75% less in the spring-herbicide treatment than in control plots and 90% less in the fall-herbicide treatment. Differences were attributed to improved translocation of the herbicide to the rhizome during periods of carbohydrate accumulation. However, reed canarygrass continued to dominate the site, preventing native species from establishing, even after 2 seasons of spring burning and fall herbicide application [1].

In North America, reed canarygrass begins to grow in early spring, typically April [5,133,157,294,301]. One report from the Great Plains [117] and another from New Jersey [171] indicate that reed canarygrass seedlings emerge in the spring. In the Pacific Northwest, reed canarygrass may begin to grow in late winter (review by [5]). Reed canarygrass continues to grow vertically throughout the spring and early summer ([301], review by [133]) and then may start to expand laterally via rhizomes (review by [133]). In Oregon, reed canarygrass grows substantially in the spring before flood waters recede [301]. Various reviews from the Pacific Northwest [148], Illinois [133], and Wisconsin [157] indicate that reed canarygrass’ growth peaks in mid-June and declines by mid-August. On an experimental site in Ohio, reed canarygrass rhizome production peaked in June and declined through August. Peak rhizome production was associated with a decline in culm production [62,63].

As mature reed canarygrass plants senesce late in the season, litter accumulates and forms thick, impenetrable mats [119,294]. Fire may be used to reduce this litter ([69,305], review by [277]), even when standing reed canarygrass is green. In near-monocultures of reed canarygrass (>80% relative cover) in an experimental field in Wisconsin, litter comprised more than 80% of total biomass in unburned plots in May but less than half of total biomass in unburned plots in August. Fire behavior was more variable on August-burned plots in this sutdy than on May-burned plots. The year after a single burn, productivity did not differ significantly between May-burned, August-burned, and unburned plots. However, the year after a second burn, productivity was greatest on spring-burned plots, less on summer-burned plots, and least on unburned plots (P<0.05) [129]. In a dense stand of reed canarygrass in Minnesota, researchers did not get a “good burn” during a June prescribed fire, which they attributed to the high moisture content of the litter [240].

Riparian plant community publications from Idaho [6] and Montana [97] and studies from Wisconsin [157] and Ohio [206] indicate that reed canarygrass tolerates pH ranging from 6.0 to 8.1 in wetlands and riparian areas. In Tennessee, reed canarygrass was planted and survived on a site with soil pH as low as 5 [69]. In Alberta, Canada, reed canarygrass occurred in oxbow lakes with water pH ranging from 8.4 to 8.8, but in one oxbow, pH fluctuated between 7.5 and 10 [284].


Feature Papers represent the most advanced research with significant potential for high impact in the field. Feature Papers are submitted upon individual invitation or recommendation by the scientific editors and undergo peer review prior to publication.

In North America, reed canarygrass occurs in many wetland plant communities including wet meadows, prairie potholes, marshes, riparian areas, and peatlands (i.e., fens, bogs). It may occur as an occasional species [94,159,307], a codominant species [156,159,243], or a dominant species [94,97,197,220,235,270], sometimes forming monotypic stands [94,97,197,220,271].

Two studies have evaluated sethoxydim—a grass-specific herbicide— in conjunction with other treatments to control reed canarygrass [260,305]. Researchers in Illinois used sethoxydim in conjunction with with prescribed fire, glyphosate application, and native plant seeding to control a monotypic stand of reed canarygrass [260]. In 2006, an early March prescribed fire was followed by a 10 May application of glyphosate. A second fire was conducted on 8 June 2006 to reduce thatch left unburned by the March fire. Then the site was seeded with a native sedge and forb mix. Sethoxydim was applied on 15 August 2006, when reed canarygrass was about 15 cm tall, and again on 18 May 2007. Plots were burned again on 18 April 2008, and sethoxydim was applied on 6 May 2008. In late July 2008, control plots averaged 88.3% reed canarygrass cover and 9.5% native graminoid cover, while treated plots averaged 14.4% reed canarygrass cover and 86.7% native graminoid cover. The author anticipates that regular prescribed fire and spot applications of glyphosate to reed canarygrass clumps will maintain the planted native sedge meadow [260].