Phalaris arundinacea ‘Big Medicine’ | ‘Reed Canary Grass’, ‘Ribbon Grass’ | Live plant
Initially developed by American botanical researcher Johnny Appleseed for its improved vigour and reduced toxicity, Phalaris arundinacea ‘Big Medicine’ is an especially rare clone of the popular ornamental ‘Reed Canary Grass’, recognisable by its attractive, pinkish-red seed heads.
Unlike most Phalaris clones (which require propagation by cutting to maintain genetics identical to their mother plant), ‘Big Medicine’ (and the related ‘Turkey Red’ and ‘Yugo Red’ strains) tends to “breed true in subsequent seed generations, if care is taken not to plant within one quarter mile or so of a pollen source of other Phalaris arundinacea“. This means that the majority of plants grown from such seed are likely to be genetically-similar (yet not identical) to the mother. However, to ensure truly identical genetics, it’s always preferable to clone the plant via rhizome division.
Arundinacea in general is an attractive tall perennial grass of the Poaceae family, growing in large stands on floodplains and the banks of rivers and streams, the shores of lakes and in other open wetland habitats. Commonly called the ‘Reed Canary Grass’, Arundinacea is also known variously as ‘Alpiste Roseau’, ‘Caniço-malhado’, ‘Gardener’s-garters’, ‘Hierba Cinta’, ‘Kusa-yoshi’, ‘Pasto Cinto’, ‘Ribbon Grass’ and ‘Rohrglanzgras’. Several beautiful ornamental cultivars are available at the present time, including ever popular lush variegated types such as ‘Castor’ and ‘Feesey’.
The species has a wide distribution across Asia, northern Africa, Europe and North America and is sometimes reported to become invasive. Phalaris arundinacea can quickly take over its environment, inhibiting existing vegetation and therefore reducing biological diversity. Because of this, we’d advise you to grow this species in containers of some kind, so as to reduce any unintentional spread of the seeds and rhizomes through which it propagates.
That aside, arundinacea is certainly an interesting species of the popular Phalaris genus, reaching up to roughly two metres tall once mature. The plant’s blue-green leaf blades grow up to around thirty centimetres long, with lighter-green spikelets which often feature dark-green or purple streaks. Arundinacea also produces delicate creamy-tan coloured flowers, making it a versatile addition to any ornamental garden.
Fun and easy to grow from seed or cuttings (similar to the related Phalaris aquatica), ‘Big Medicine’ and other arundinacea varieties prefer full sun to light shade and should be planted approximately fifty centimetres apart, in mildly acidic to mildly alkaline soil (a range of roughly 6.1pH-7.8pH). Although drought-tolerant, the plant will thank you for giving it plenty of watering!
Perhaps surprisingly to many Westerners, Phalaris arundinacea is a fairly popular edible plant, with all parts including the root, seed and stem being eaten. It’s used variously either cooked or raw (in a similar fashion to potatoes or bamboo shoots), coarsely-ground to make a flour or porridge, as an herb, as a sweet or sweetener (it contains up to 5% sugar), or simply processed for the starch content. Arundinacea’s stems have been reported as containing 4.8g protein, 0.8g fat, 90.0g total carbohydrate, 41.2g fibre and 4.4g ash; it’s consequently not too bad an option if you’re looking for some free food! The grass can also easily be turned into bricks or pellets for burning in biomass power stations and is also used for its fibre in pulp and papermaking processes and as a forage or hay crop too. So many reasons to have a crack at growing this much-admired Phalaris clone – yet another EU exclusive from Arkham’s Botanical!
Grown in sunny Spain and the UK!
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