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Elymus canadensis (Canada wild rye)
Lytle, Melody

Elymus canadensis

Elymus canadensis L.

Canada Wild Rye, Canadian Wildrye, Prairie Wildrye, Nodding Wildrye

Poaceae (Grass Family)

Synonym(s): Elymus brachystachys, Elymus canadensis var. brachystachys, Elymus canadensis var. hirsutus, Elymus canadensis var. robustus, Elymus crescendus, Elymus philadelphicus, Elymus philadelphicus var. hirsutus, Elymus robustus

USDA Symbol: ELCA4

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

The erect or arching stems of this cool-seaon, short-lived perennial grow 2-4 ft. tall. Terminal, spike-shaped seedheads of oat-like seeds with long, bristly awns, cause the stems to bend and droop.

Canada wild rye establishes easily, providing quick initial cover. It is a versatile, cool-season plant, requiring little to no maintenance. It displays heavy, whiskery, nodding seed heads in early fall.


From the Image Gallery

15 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Grass/Grass-like
Root Type: Fibrous
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Shape: Linear
Leaf Venation: Parallel
Inflorescence: Spike
Fruit Type: Caryopsis
Size Notes: 2 to 6 feet tall
Leaf: Green
Fruit: Green to tan

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun


USA: AR , AZ , CA , CO , CT , DC , DE , IA , ID , IL , IN , KS , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MT , NC , ND , NE , NH , NJ , NM , NV , NY , OH , OK , OR , PA , RI , SD , TN , TX , UT , VA , VT , WA , WI , WV , WY
Canada: AB , MB , NB , NS , ON , QC , SK
Native Distribution: Que. to B.C., s. to NC, TX, AZ & e. of the Cascades to n. CA, south to Durango and Nuevo Leon in northern Mexico. Absent from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Most common in the northern reaches of its range and at high altitudes.
Native Habitat: Grasslands, ravines, depressions, verges, open woodlands, ditches, fencerows

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Drought Tolerance: High
Soil Description: Moist, well-drained, porous, acid or calcareous sand, loam, clay, or limestone
Conditions Comments: Prefers a moist soil. Can take half a day of shade. More drought-tolerant than Western Wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii); less drought-tolerant than Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha). Requires more sun than Virginia Wildrye (Elymus virginicus).


Use Ornamental: A good bunchgrass for partly shady prairie plantings.
Use Wildlife: Nesting material, Seeds-granivorous birds, Seeds-Small mammals. Fair forage.
Use Food: Seed consumed by Gosiute Indians.
Use Other: Very palatable and nutritious, readily consumed by livestock, providing good early spring cattle grazing. Cut seed stalks used in dried arrangements.
Warning: The awns (seed husks) of this species and some other grass species with similarly barbed awns pose a serious threat of injury to dogs in which they can cause severe eye injuries. Do not use this grass in areas frequented by dogs.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Butterflies
Larval Host: For Zabulon skipper butterfly
Deer Resistant: High

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Zabulon Skipper
(Poanes zabulon)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA


Propagation Material: Root Division , Seeds
Description: Plant or divide in autumn. Sow seed on top of soil as seed needs light to germinate.
Seed Treatment: Benefits from cold-moist stratification for two weeks.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

Order seed of this species from Native American Seed and help support the Wildflower Center.

Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

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June 03, 2008
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May 30, 2008
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National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - Austin, TX
Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College, The - Valhalla, NY
Sibley Nature Center - Midland, TX
Brackenridge Field Laboratory - Austin, TX
Patsy Glenn Refuge, c/o Wimberley Birding Society - Wimberley, TX
Nueces River Authority - Uvalde, TX
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
North American Native Plant Society - Etobicoke, ON
NPSOT - Austin Chapter - Austin, TX
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR
NPSOT - Williamson County Chapter - Georgetown, TX

Herbarium Specimen(s)

NPSOT 1036 Collected Jun 6, 1995 in Bexar County by Mike Fox
NPSOT 0807 Collected May 29, 1994 in Comal County by Mary Beth White
NPSOT 0355 Collected May 19, 1993 in Bexar County by Louise Morrell

3 specimen(s) available in the Digital Herbarium

Wildflower Center Seed Bank

LBJWC-31 Collected 2006-05-24 in Travis County by Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

1 collection(s) available in the Wildflower Center Seed Bank


Bibref 946 - Gardening with Prairie Plants: How to Create Beautiful Native Landscapes (2002) Wasowski, Sally
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender
Bibref 1294 - The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Elymus canadensis in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Elymus canadensis in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Elymus canadensis


Record Modified: 2012-12-07
Research By: TWC Staff

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