Giant Reed is a very imposing species that dwarfs most other grasses. In spite of its common name, the Giant Reed is a grass (a member of the Grass family), rather than a reed (whatever that means). With the exception of Arundinaria gigantea (Giant Cane), a species that occurs only in southern Illinois, Giant Reed is the tallest native grass species in Illinois. The Giant Cane is a native bamboo species that flowers only once in about 50 years, while mature specimens of Giant Reed bloom every year. Another grass species that can become as tall is Arundo donax, which is also called 'Giant Reed.' This latter species is cultivated as an ornamental grass and it is native to the Mediterranean area. The species Arundo donax is tall and columnar; it has leaves that are shorter and more spreading than those of Giant Reed. In Illinois, Arundo donax is usually shorter than the Giant Reed, but in warmer climates it can become taller. There is a less robust form of Arundo donax with variegated leaves. So far, this introduced species has naturalized only rarely in southern Illinois. A scientific synonym of Giant Reed is Phragmites communis, while 'Common Reed' is another common name that is occasionally applied to this native species.
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