What is Phalaris?

Anna Harrison

Phalaris is one of the most common genus of grasses and can be found growing on every continent excluding Antarctica. Various species can be found growing in all types of conditions — from dry, alpine areas to low lying marshes. A few varieties are grown as aquatic plants in ponds and aquariums. Ribbon grass and canary grass are the most common types of Phalaris plants.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Most of these ornamental grasses grow several feet tall, with sturdy stems that keep them in an erect position. They produce narrow, blade-like leaves that can be up to 8 inches (20 cm) long and with long clusters of tiny nondescript flowers in summer. These quickly form seeds, which germinate readily when mature. The leaves are ornamental and sometimes streaked with red or yellow. They are long lasting when dried and frequently added to dried flower arrangements.

These types of grass spread vigorously by wind blown seeds as well as by rhizomes which form large colonies. Unlike many other plants, Phalaris will grow and spread underwater, although it will grow slower and shorter than those planted in garden soil. It also has the ability to withstand drought and dry soil. It is not particular about growing conditions, although most will grow taller in full sunlight.

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Phalaris seeds are often mixed with rapeseed and sold commercially in cheaper birdseed mixes. Very small birds such as finches and juncos feed on these mixes; most songbirds will not eat them, however, if other types of seed are available. Livestock will forage on them as well; they are often seen as low quality food for these types of animals.

Many types of Phalaris have become invasive in many parts of the world. It has spread through marshes, meadows, and roadsides and become a nuisance plant; it often crowds out more desirable, native species and decreases biodiversity in these areas. New plants should be removed while they are small, and the area should be immediately replanted with a hardy species that will not be pushed out by new Phalaris plants. Very small pieces of root will grow into new plants, so it takes persistence to completely eliminate them. Repeatedly mowing or burning this grass will also deter any new growth.

This genus has a high dimethyltryptamine content which has hallucinogenic properties similar to LSD. This substance, commonly known as DMT, is dried and then smoked, injected, or even eaten by those seeking a legal psychedelic drug. This can be very dangerous, however, as the quantity of DMT in the leaves varies greatly; ingesting too much can cause illness or even death.

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