Lesser Canary grass

Phalaris minor Retz.

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.

Lesser Canary grass

Other names:

Annual Canary Grass

Annual Phalaris

Bristled Spiked Canary Grass

Canary grass

Little Seeded Canary Grass

Littleseed Canary Grass

Small Canary Grass

Wild Canary Grass.


A hairless, tufted, leafy annual grass with dense, oblong seed heads 2-6 cm long and held well above the leaves.





Leaves rolled in the shoot.

Blade - Flat, 20-300 mm long, 3-13 mm wide, parallel sided tapering to a fine point, parallel veins, smooth or roughened. Hairless.

Ligule - Prominent, 8-10 mm long, often flat topped and fringed.

Auricles - No auricles, but base of blade winged around stem.

Sheath - Usually close around the stems. Uppermost sheath swollen. Hairless. Tubular and fused.

Collar - Lighter colour.


Erect or bent at the nodes, tufted, 100-1000 mm tall, round and hollow with solid nodes, smooth, rarely branched, rarely rooting at the lower nodes. Hairless.

Flower head:

Dense, soft, narrowly egg shaped to oblong or cylindrical spike like panicle, 10-100 mm long by 10-20 mm diameter, held well above the leaves, pale green to chaffy. Spikelets clustered on short, roughened branches around the central stalk. Hairless.


Spikelets - All alike, often spreading, overlapping, 5-6 mm long, flattened, on very short roughened stalks.

Florets - Bisexual one flattened, egg shaped, 2.75-4 mm long, hairy, initially pale and becoming grey brown with age. Theoretically 3 flowered but bottom flower absent or scale like, second flower reduced to a bristle and the third flower normal.

Glumes - Persistent, narrowly oblong, 4-6.5 mm long, both the same size, 3 nerved, broad membranous edges, winged keel on the top third. Wings crescent shaped, roughened and may be irregularly toothed.

Palea - 2.5-3.5 mm long, hairy on keel, hairless on the sides.

Lemma - First lemma absent. Second lemma sterile, bristle like, hairy, nearly half as long as the third lemma, 0.2-1.8 mm long. Third lemma fertile, 2.5-4 mm long, indistinctly 5 ribbed, hairy.

Stamens -

Anthers -

Breaks above the glumes and fall as single spikelets.


Tear shaped, 1 mm long, brown, hairy with a single husk (the lemma of the second flower) attached to its base.


Enclosed in fruit.


Large fibrous root system.

Key Characters:

Spikelets, 5-6 mm long, all fertile and alike, falling singly.

Glume, keel broadly winged in the upper part and toothed.

One of the empty florets lacking or reduced to a scale.

Panicle oblong to cylindrical

No Rhizome.



Life cycle:

Annual grass. Seeds germinates from autumn to winter and it grows over winter and into spring producing a large bulk of leaf and tufted stems that flower from late-winter to spring. It dies with the onset of hot dry weather.



By seed.

Flowering times:

Spring in western NSW.

October to December or later in SA.

August to November in Perth.

Spring and summer in WA.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Vegetative Propagules:




Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Spread by intentional planting and as a contaminant of produce and grain. Also spread by animals and birds.

Origin and History:

Mediterranean, Western Europe, North Africa, Central Asia, Canary Islands.





Temperate. Mediterranean and western Europe.


Usually on sandy soils but also on clay soils in low lying areas, gilgais, table drains and the edges of lakes.

Plant Associations:

Often grows with Paradoxa Grass (Phalaris paradoxa).

Black Box, Bimble Box, Bladder Saltbush and open grasslands.



Grown for bird seed.

Fodder. Palatable when young but becomes rank with age.


A weed of cereal and winter growing crops causing yield reductions.

Weed of rotation crops, perennial crops, pastures, offshore islands, wetlands, roadsides and disturbed areas.


Recorded as toxic in the USA when young but no recorded poisoning in Australia.



Management and Control:


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.

Herbicide resistance:

Biological Control:

Related plants:

Blue Canary grass (Phalaris coerulescens)

Canary grass (Phalaris canariensis) is usually larger.

Paradoxa grass (Phalaris paradoxa) is very similar but the seed head barely sticks out of the upper leaf and spikelets fall in groups rather than singly.

Phalaris (Phalaris aquatica) has 2 husks attached to the base of the seed rather than 1.

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)



Auld, B.A. and Medd R.W. (1992). Weeds. An illustrated botanical guide to the weeds of Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P54-55. Photo.

Black, J.M. (1978). Flora of South Australia. (Government Printer, Adelaide, South Australia). P169-170. Diagram.

Burbidge, N.T. and Gray, M. (1970). Flora of the Australian Capital Territory. (Australian National University Press, Canberra). P60.

Ciba Geigy (1981) Grass Weeds 2. CIBA GEIGY Ltd, Basle, Switzerland. P115. Diagrams.

Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Milthorpe, P.L. and Leigh, J.H. (1992). Plants of Western New South Wales. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P131. Diagram of spikelet.

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). P66-67. 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). #960.5.

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). P73. Diagram.

Wilding, J.L. et al. (1987). Crop weeds. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P31. Diagrams. Photos.


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