Canary grass

Phalaris canariensis L.

Family: Poaceae.


Phalaris is the Greek for coot with its bald white head or from phalaros meaning white crested. Both refer to the appearance of the seed head.
Canary grass - because it comes from the Canary Islands.

Other names:

Birdseed Grass
Reed Canary Grass.


A hairless, tufted, leafy annual grass, 150-1200 mm tall with dense egg shaped to oblong, 2-7 cm long seed heads that have spikelets with white and green stripes.





Emerging leaf rolled in the shoot.
Blade - Flat, green to whitish green, 50-350 mm long, 4-18 mm wide, parallel sided. Hairless to rough on the upper surface. Narrowed where it joins the sheath. Tapers to a fine point.
Ligule - 3-8 mm long, membranous, occasionally fringed.
Auricles - None.
Sheath - Hairless to roughened, rounded on the back. The top sheath is swollen.
Collar - Lighter in colour.


Erect or bent at lower nodes, stiff, smooth, 150-1300 mm tall, slender to stout, occasionally branched. Hairless. 4-6 nodes.

Flower head:

Erect, egg shaped to oblong, dense, spike like panicle, 15-70 mm long x 12-25 mm diameter, white with green ribs, very short branches surround the main axis. Hairless.


Spikelets - All alike, flattened, egg shaped, 6-10 mm long x 4-6 mm wide, overlapping, acute tip. May have a stalk (pedicel) or be almost stalkless.
Florets - 1 fertile and 2 sterile per spikelet. Fertile floret, oval, 4.8-6.8 mm long, silky hairy. Sterile florets half the length of the fertile one and almost hairless.
Glumes - Pale green or white with dark green bands along the 3-5 ribs, 6-10 mm long with a green keel, persistent, firm, broad membranous edges, slightly hairy especially near the top and hairless or tiny angled hairs on the edges. Tip abruptly pointed. Broad, smooth edged wing on the keel near top.
Palea - 5.5 mm long, 2 ribbed hairy on the keel near top.
Lemma - Empty ones 2-4.5 mm, papery with a scale like base, sparsely hairy to almost hairless.
Bisexual one 4.5-6.8 mm long, acute tip, keeled, tough, initially with dense low lying hairs becoming glossy and hairless with age.
Stamens -
Anthers -
Breaks above the glumes.


Yellow, glossy, flattened, tear drop shape.


Enclosed in fruit.



Key Characters:

Emerging leaf rolled in the shoot.
Membranous ligule, 3-8 mm long that is occasionally fringed.
No auricles.
Leaves, sheath and stems hairless.
The collar is lighter in colour.
Spikelets, 7-10 mm long, broadly ovate, all fertile and alike, falling singly.
Glume, keel broadly winged in the upper part, entire.
Both empty florets present.
Panicle ovoid or ovoid-oblong
No Rhizome.


Life cycle:

Annual. Seed germinates in autumn and it grows over winter forming a tuft of stems that flower in spring to early summer.



By seed.

Flowering times:

Spring to early summer in western NSW.
September to December in SA.
September to October in Perth.
Spring in WA.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Vegetative Propagules:




Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Most spread is by intentional planting then seed being dispersed by animals or birds. Also spread as a contaminant in hay, grain and produce.

Origin and History:

Canary Islands. North west Africa. Western Mediterranean. Central Asia.


Spain (Diaz, 1978)

Courtesy Australia's Virtual Herbarium.



Temperate. Mediterranean.


Most abundant on sandy soils.

Plant Associations:



Grown for bird seed.
Fodder, palatable when young.
Food plant.


Weed of cereals, crops, rotation crops, pastures, roadsides and disturbed areas.


Not recorded as toxic.



Management and Control:

Spray topping is useful to reduce infestations in pasture situations.
Pre emergence 500 g/ha pronamide (Blumenfeld et al., 1973), 680 g.a.i. pendimethalin (Cairns et al., 1979), 6 L/ha pendimethalin330 (Catizone and Viggiani, 1980), 3-4 L/ha diclofop (Catizone and Viggiani, 1980), 10 L/ha TokE25 (nitrofen) (Catizone and Viggiani, 1980) provides good control.
EPTC incorporated pre sowing is used in some legume crops (International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, 1978).
trifluralin 24% + linuron 12% at 4 kg product/ha pre em in wheat gives good control (Lasagna and Spagni, 1978).
12.5 kg Chlorthal/ha and 2.5 kg chloroxuron/ha don't control Canary grass; 900 g trifluralin/ha probably did (Brosh and Shutan, 1972).
Post emergence diclofop375 at 1-2.5 L/ha gives variable control (Anderson, 1978) usually need 3-4L/ha (Catizone and Viggiani, 1980) and provided better control at 18/10 degrees C when the plant was growing most vigorously (Donn and Bieringer, 1980).
Post emergence phenmedipham is used in sugar beet (Dahroug, 2000) and dalapon in irrigated areas (FUDGE, 1956) and metribuzin in barley and wheat (Hill et al., 1977).
Post-em. applications of 1.5 kg/ha methabenzthiazuron or 1.0 kg isoproturon at 32 days after sowing wheat resulted in adequate control (Hooda et al., 1990).
fluorodifen at 1 kg/ha controlled Phalaris canariensis in wheat (International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, 1978).
Good control with 500-750 g fluazifop-butyl/ha (Stewart et al., 1982).
Cycloxydim was effective in controlling A. ludoviciana, L. multiflorum and P. canariensis, whereas, alossifop-R and propaquizafop were effective against all the grass weeds (Tallevi et al., 1998).
Trifluralin at 2 litres/ha, linuron at 3.5 kg and prometryn at 2 kg, applied before sowing, pre-em. and post-em., respectively, gave good weed control in a mixed weed infestation with Canary grass as a major component (Tepe et al., 1994),
Phalaris canariensis in non-cultivated areas can be controlled by ploughing in the autumn and applying TCA at 1 lb./sq. rod (Utah., 1954).
Canary grass is probably sensitive to propyzamide as it is used as a bioassay (Zandvoort et al., 1979).

Control of Weeds in P. canariensis crops.

Difenzoquat at 0.84 kg/ha or 0.53 kg flamprop/ha post-em. or 1.4 kg tri-allate/ha incorporated pre-sowing resulted in optimum A. fatua control and P. canariensis seed yields (Holt and Hunter, 1987). Diclofop at 0.7 kg/ha severely damaged P. canariensis in all years (Holt and Hunter, 1987).
2,4-D and MCPA used in Canary grass crops for broad leaved weeds (LE COSTE, 1951).
Single applications or combinations of Stomp 330 EC (pendimethalin), 7-15 g/ha Glean 75 DF (chlorsulfuron) and 12 g/ha Logran 75 WG (triasulfuron) were applied to P. canariensis crops pre- and post-em. Weeds were effectively controlled by all 3 herbicides applied pre planting or 4 or 8 weeks post planting without causing crop damage (Nemeth, 1989). However, for weed control in canary grass, only low dose rates of the sulfonyl ureas could be used because of phytotoxic effects (N?meth and S?rfalvi, 2000).
Tolerance of canary grass (Phalaris canariensis). Seedlings were severely damaged when sown in soil treated with di-allate at 1.37 kg/ha but were not affected by tri-allate; barban at 0.34 kg/ha post-em, was also safe (RESEARCH STATION, 1971).


Eradication strategies:

Apply glyphosate in winter, and repeat in late spring if necessary, each year for several years. In crops and other situations a number of more selective herbicides can be used.
Glyphosate was most effective when applied at flowering of Canary grass (Phalaris canariensis). Control of Phalaris canariensis was100% with both dalapon at 12 lb/acre and glyphosate at 1.5 lb/acre (Mueller and Lembi, 1976).

Herbicide resistance:

Biological Control:

Related plants:

Blue Canary grass (Phalaris coerulescens)
Canary grass (Phalaris canariensis)
Lesser Canary grass (Phalaris minor) has narrower tapering leaves.
Phalaris (Phalaris aquatica)
Paradoxa grass (Phalaris paradoxa)
Reed Canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea)
Phalaris angusta
Phalaris arundinacea var. picta is and ornamental variety.

Plants of similar appearance:

Barley grass (Hordeum leporinum)
Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata)
Elephant Grass (Pennisetum purpureum)
Feathertop (Pennisetum villosum)
Hares Foot Grass (Lagurus ovatus) is similar but hairy.
Slender Foxtail (Alopecurus myosuroides)
Marsh Foxtail (Alopecurus geniculatus)
Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis)
Timothy Grass (Phleum pratense)


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Black, J.M. (1978). Flora of South Australia. (Government Printer, Adelaide, South Australia). P169.

Ciba Geigy (1981) Grass Weeds 2. CIBA GEIGY Ltd, Basle, Switzerland. P114. Diagrams.

Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Milthorpe, P.L. and Leigh, J.H. (1992). Plants of Western New South Wales. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P130.

Hussey, B.M.J., Keighery, G.J., Cousens, R.D., Dodd, J. and Lloyd, S.G. (1997). Western Weeds. A guide to the weeds of Western Australia. (Plant Protection Society of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia). P64. Photo.

Lamp, C. and Collet, F. (1990). A Field Guide to Weeds in Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne).

Lazarides, M. and Hince, B. (1993). CSIRO handbook of economic plants of Australia. (CSIRO, Melbourne). #960.3.

Marchant, N.G., Wheeler, J.R., Rye, B.L., Bennett, E.M., Lander, N.S. and Macfarlane, T.D. (1987). Flora of the Perth Region. (Western Australian Herbarium, Department of Agriculture, Western Australia). P979.

Paterson, J.G. (1977). Grasses in South Western Australia. (Western Australian Department of Agriculture Bulletin 4007). 74. Diagram.


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