Reed canary grass is native to Europe, Asia, and North America, and it varies quite a bit. Our native Missouri version, for instance, is quite different from the Eurasian type that has been widely introduced — and which has proven to be highly invasive.
Reed canary grass is a cool-season perennial wetland grass that spreads via a dense rhizome system into clumps or colonies. Stems are erect, hairless, with gradually tapering leaf blades 3½ to 10 inches long and ¼ to ¾ inch in width. Flowering clusters are dense, compact, branched, spike-like, erect to slightly spreading, and 3-16 inches long with branches 2-12 inches long. Leaf blades are flat and are rough on both sides. A large transparent membrane (the ligule) is visible if you pull the blade slightly away from the stem. Seeds are shiny brown.
Similar plants: Our native ecotype of reed canary grass is not easily distinguished from the invasive Eurasion ecotype, but it typically does not form dense stands, and it coexists with other native vegetation in high-quality moist prairies. Reed canary grass may also resemble our native bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis) and nonnative orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata).