Giant cane or Arundo donax, is a tall, long lived perennial grass usually found growing in stream and river bottom soils or boggy areas in southern temperate to tropical areas but it is adapted to many different soil and fertility types. It is being studied for bio-energy uses along with giant miscanthus grass and the native switchgrass among others. Additional common names include Arundo, Colorado reed, Carrizo, giant reed, Spanish cane and wild cane or reed. It is often referred to as a reed since Arundo donax is the primary source of reeds for woodwind musical instruments.
Giant cane is an exotic plant generally growing to 20 feet but under ideal conditions it can reach 33 feet tall. As with other canes it has hollow stems around 1 inch in diameter. The grey-green leaves are 12 to 24 in long and around 1 to 2 inches wide. Overall, it resembles a larger version of common reed or a bamboo. In addition it is among the fastest growing plants in the world at nearly 4 inches a day. Annual biomass estimates average 25 tons per acre once established.
When giant cane flowers, it looks like several other tall, warm season grasses with a feathery, plumed seed head but it contains mostly infertile seeds. It readily reproduces vegetatively by rhizomes. Also, giant cane does not provide any food or nesting for wildlife. Its growth crowds-out native plants. These characteristics have made it unwelcome in many states where it is considered an invasive and noxious weed. The only thing making it less of a potential problem in Missouri is being unable to stand our winters making it an annual here.
It is not likely to become an important crop here because the annual planting of rhizomes will be a lot of trouble, planting tillage will be erosive and the first year’s growth probably would not create a sufficient amount of biomass.
Source: Jim Jarman, agronomy specialist, 573-642-0755