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Giant Reed (Arundo donax L.)

Also known as giant cane, elephant grass, carrizo, arundo, wild cane, Spanish cane, Colorado river reed.

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A very tall perennial grass native to the southern parts of Asia and invasive in North America.

Range - Expand

Introduced or Not Present

This tentative map is based on our own research. It may have limited data on Canada and/or Mexico, and there is some subjectivity in our assignment of plants as introduced vs. expanded. Read more in this blog post.


In North America, giant reed tends to mostly occur in anthropogenic habitats, including roadside ditches, culverts, and wetlands, streams, and ponds in parks and in agricultural areas.

It prefers to grow in wet conditions but can grow on drier ground in areas with a high water table that is consistently within reach of its roots.

It is limited to warmer climate regions, but tolerates a range of seasonality of precipitation, including wet-summer/dry-winter, Mediterranean (wet-winter/dry-summer), and regions with wet spring and fall and dry summer and winter. It is more limited by winter cold than summer heat, and can survive in desert climates when growing near a water source.

Life Cycle

Giant reed is a rhizomatous perennial that uses C3 metabolism.


This species has been widely planted as biofuel, where it is valued for its very high efficiency of photosynthesis, both in terms of conversion of total solar energy, and lower water use than is typical for grasses using C3 metabolism.

This is the only Arundo species found in North America; more broadly, it belongs to the Arundineae tribe, and is the only member of that tribe found in North America.

Even more broadly, it belongs to the Arundinoideae subfamily of the PACMAD clade
of grasses. Most members of this subfamily also do not occur in North America. The introduced purple moorgrass (Molinia caerulea) does, but much farther north and not overlapping in range. The closest native relative in North America is the American common reed (Phragmites americanus), which is rare, scattered, and has a much more northerly distribution. The range overlaps more with the introduced eurasian common reed (Phragmites australis).

The lack of close relatives in North America is probably a factor in this species being poor at supporting the food web here.


We recommend against the common name "Colorado river reed" as this species is not native anywhere along the Colorado river, and similarly, the term "Spanish cane" as it is not native anywhere near Spain. We also recommend against the term "giant cane" as in North America this name more often refers to the native giant cane (Arundinaria gigantea). We also recommend against the generic term "wild cane" as it is highly ambiguous, referring to many different species. The term "giant reed" is both widely-used and unambiguous.

Giant Reed | Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) (About This Site)

Arundo donax (giant reed) | USDA PLANTS Database (About This Site)

Arundo donax (Giant Reed) | Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder (About This Site)

Arundo donax (giant reed) | CABI Invasive Species Compendium (About This Site)

Arundo donax | Biota of North America Project (BONAP) (About This Site)

Arundo donax | NatureServe Explorer (About This Site)

Arundo donax | Flora of North America (About This Site)

Giant Reed | Maryland Biodiversity Project (About This Site)

Arundo donax L. | Plants of the World Online (POWO) (About This Site)

Arundo donax L. (Giant Reed) | Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora (About This Site)