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Arundo donax, giant cane, is a tall perennial cane growing in damp soils, either fresh or moderately saline. It is one of the several species of the so-called reed. Other common names include Carrizo, Arundo, Spanish cane, Colorado river reed, wild cane, and giant reed.

Arundo donax
Giant Cane (Arundo donax)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Arundo
Species: A. donax
Binomial name
Arundo donax

Arundo donax is native to the Mediterranean Basin and middle east Asia,[1] and probably also parts of Africa and southern Arabian Peninsula. It has been widely planted and naturalised in the mild temperate, subtropical and tropical regions of both hemispheres (Herrera & Dudley 2003), especially in the Mediterranean, California, the western Pacific and the Caribbean.[2][3] It forms dense stands on disturbed sites, sand dunes, in wetlands and riparian habitats.



Arundo donax generally grows to 6 metres (20 ft), in ideal conditions it can exceed 10 metres (33 ft), with hollow stems 2 to 3 centimetres (0.79 to 1.18 in) diameter. The leaves are alternate, 30 to 60 centimetres (12 to 24 in) long and 2 to 6 centimetres (0.79 to 2.36 in) wide with a tapered tip, grey-green, and have a hairy tuft at the base. Overall, it resembles an outsize common reed (Phragmites australis) or a bamboo (subfamily Bambusoideae).

Arundo donax flowers in late summer, bearing upright, feathery plumes 40 to 60 centimetres (16 to 24 in) long, that are usually seedless or with seeds that are rarely fertile. Instead, it mostly reproduces vegetatively, by underground rhizomes. The rhizomes are tough and fibrous and form knotty, spreading mats that penetrate deep into the soil up to 1 metre (3.3 ft) deep (Alden et al., 1998; Mackenzie, 2004). Stem and rhizome pieces less than 5 centimetres (2.0 in) long and containing a single node readily sprouted under a variety of conditions (Boose and Holt, 1999). This vegetative growth appears to be well adapted to floods, which may break up individual A. donax clumps, spreading the pieces, which may sprout and colonise further downstream (Mackenzie 2004).

Arundo donax.
Phyllostachys aurea (golden bamboo) and Arundo donax.
Arundo donax.
Arundo donax.
Arundo donax.


Arundo donax (L.) is a tall, perennial C3 grass species belongs to the subfamily Arundinoideae of the Poaceae family. The hollow stems, 3 to 5 cm thick, have a cane-like appearance similar to bamboo. Mature stands can reach a height up to 8 m. Stems produced during the first growing season are unbranched and photosynthetic. It is an asexually reproducing species due to seed sterility.[4] It needs to be established by vegetative propagation, due to a lack of viable seed production. Underground it produces an extensive network of large, but short rhizomes like bulbs, and fibrous taproots. In the Mediterranean, where a temperate climate is characterized by warm and dry summer and mild winter, giant reed new shoots emerge around March, growing rapidly in June – July and producing stems and leaves. From late July the lower leaves start to dry, depending to seasonal temperature patterns. Crop drying accelerates during autumn when anthesis occurs from the beginning of October to the end of November. In this phenological stage moisture contents fall significantly. In winter-time giant reed stops its growth because of low temperatures and regrowth occurs in the following springtime. In Central Europe giant reed behaves as an annual energy crop for the low soil temperatures and poor freeze tolerance lack of the rhizomes. The base growth temperature reported for giant reed is 7 °C,[5] and a maximum cut-off is at 30 °C. It has a high photosynthetic capacity, associated with absence of light saturation. Carbon dioxide exchange rates is high compared to other C3 and C4 species. Under natural condition, the maximum CO2 uptake ranged between 19.8 and 36.7 µmol m−2 s−1, depending on irradiance, leaf age, and it is regulated by leaf conductance.[6]

Genetic backgroundEdit

In most areas where giant reed grows (Mediterranean area and US), viable seeds are not produced.[7] On the other hand, sterility is an obstacle for breeding programs which aim to increase the productivity and biomass quality for energy conversion.[8] Asexual reproduction drastically reduces genetic variability. It is reported that sterility of giant reed is as a result of a failure of the megaspore mother cell to divide.[9] A total of 185 clones of A. donax were collected from California to South Carolina and genetically fingerprinted with the SRAP and TE-based markers.[10] Giant reed exhibited no molecular genetic variation despite the wide genomic coverage of the markers used in this study. The molecular data strongly point to a single genetic clone of A. donax in the United States, although multiple introductions of this plant into the United States have been documented. Another study was conducted in the Mediterranean area on sampling giant reed from 80 different sites, and a low gene diversity was detected. Results indicate the occurrence of post-meiotic alterations in the ovule and pollen developmental pathway. AFLP data support a monophyletic origin of giant reed and suggest that it originated in Asia and began to spread into the Mediterranean Basin.


Giant reed is adapted to a wide variety of ecological conditions, but is generally associated with riparian and wetland systems. It is distributed across the southern United States from Maryland to California. Plants can grow in a variety of soils, from heavy clays to loose sands and gravelly soils, but prefer wet drained soils, where they produce monotypic dense stands. In soil contaminated with arsenic, cadmium and lead, giant reed was found to grow rapidly, showing a strong metal-tolerance, with a limited metal translocation from roots to shoots.[11] In this study, it is underlined that accumulation of As, Cd and Pb in shoots of giant reed is low, while metal concentration in roots is high, and the anatomical characteristics of stem tissues are thick and homogeneous according to SEM image. In Pakistan, where the detection of arsenic in ground waters has threatened the use of groundwater as major source of drinking water, a research highlighted the phytoremediation potential of A. donax when grown in hydroponics cultures containing arsenic concentrations up to 1000 µg l−1.[12] Giant reed was able to translocate the metals absorbed into the shoot and to accumulate metals in the stalk and leaves above the root concentration without showing any toxic effects up to As concentration of 600 µg l−1. Furthermore, the plant is not consumed by herbivores, a positive trait in phytoremediation plants.

Carbon sequestrationEdit

An increased environmental concern is the health of soil system as one of the main factor affecting quality and productivity of agroecosystems. Around the world, several regions are subjected to a decline of fertility due to an increasing degradation of soils, loss of organic matter and increasing desertification.[13] Recently research was carried out to evaluate, in the same pedological and climatic conditions, the impact of three long-term (14 years) agricultural systems, continuous giant reed, natural grassland, and cropping sequence, on the organic-matter characteristics and microbial biomass size in soil.[14] The study pointed out that a long term Giant reed cropping system, characterized by low tillage intensity, positively affect the amount and quality of soil organic matter. Arundo donax showed greater values than tilled management system for total soil organic carbon, light fraction carbon, dissolved organic carbon, and microbial biomass carbon. Regarding the humification parameters, there were noticed any statistically differences between giant reed and a cropping sequence (cereals-legumes cultivated conventionally).

Management in riparian habitatsEdit

Arundo is a highly invasive plant in southwestern North American rivers, and its promotion as a biofuel in other regions is of great concern to environmental scientists and land managers.[15]Arundo donax was introduced from the Mediterranean to California in the 1820s for roofing material and erosion control in drainage canals in the Los Angeles area (Bell 1997; Mackenzie 2004). Through spread and subsequent plantings as an ornamental plant, and for use as reeds in woodwind instruments, it has become naturalised throughout warm coastal freshwaters of North America, and its range continues to spread. It has been planted widely through South America and Australasia (Boose and Holt 1999; Bell 1997) and in New Zealand it is listed under the National Pest Plant Accord as an "unwanted organism".[16] Despite its invasive characteristics in regions around the world where it is not native, Arundo is being promoted by the energy industry as a bio-fuel crop. Some of the regions, such as the southeastern United States have natural disturbances, such as hurricanes and floods, that could widely disperse this plant.

It is among the fastest-growing terrestrial plants in the world (nearly 10 centimetres (3.9 in) / day; Dudley, 2000). To present knowledge, Arundo does not provide any food sources or nesting habitats for wildlife. Replacement of native plant communities by Arundo results in low-quality habitat and altered ecosystem functioning (Bell 1997; Mackenzie 2004). For example, it damages California's riparian ecosystems by outcompeting native species, such as willows, for water. A. donax stems and leaves contain a variety of harmful chemicals, including silica and various alkaloids, which protect it from most insect herbivores and deter wildlife from feeding on it (Bell 1997; Miles et al. 1993; Mackenzie 2004). Grazing animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats may have some effect on it, but are unlikely to be useful in keeping it under control (Dudley 2000).

Arundo donax appears to be highly adapted to fires. It is highly flammable throughout the year, and during the drier months of the year (July to October), it can increase the probability, intensity, and spread of wildfires through the riparian environment, changing the communities from flood-defined to fire-defined communities.[17] After fires, A. donax rhizomes can resprout quickly, outgrowing native plants, which can result in large stands of A. donax along riparian corridors (Bell 1997; Scott 1994). Fire events thus push the system further toward mono-specific stands of A. donax.

A waterside plant community dominated by A. donax may also have reduced canopy shading of the in-stream habitat, which may result in increased water temperatures. This may lead to decreased oxygen concentrations and lower diversity of aquatic animals (Bell 1997).

As the impact of Arundo donax increased in the environment and native species various efforts have been taken to reduce its population. It has few natural enemies in its introduced range. Several Mediterranean insects have been imported into the United States as biological control agents (Bell, 1997; Miles et al. 1993; Mackenzie 2004, Goolsby 2007). The Arundo wasp, Tetramesa romana, the Arundo scale insect, Rhizaspidiotus donacis, and the Arundo fly, Cryptonevra are known to have some effect in damaging the plant. Tetramesa romana and more recently Rhizaspidiotus donacisis were registered in the US as biological control agents.

Other remedies like using mechanical force have also been employed, since outside its native range Arundo donax doesn’t reproduce by seeds, so removing its root structure can be effective at controlling it. Also preventing it from getting sunlight will deplete the plant of its resources and eventually kill it (Mackenzie 2004). Systemic herbicides and glyphosate are also used as chemical remedies.

The US Department of Homeland Security considers this plant invasive and in 2007 began researching biological controls.[18] In 2015, Texas Senator Carlos Uresti passed legislation to create a program to eradicate Arundo donax using herbicides and the Arundo wasp.[19]

Invasive speciesEdit

In New Zealand's northernmost region, Arundo donax crowds out native plants,[20] reduces wildlife habitat, contributes to higher fire frequency and intensity, and modifies river hydrology.


Energy cropEdit

Energy crops are plants which are produced with the express purpose of using their biomass energetically [21] and at the same time reduce carbon dioxide emission. Biofuels derived from lignocellulosic plant material represent an important renewable energy alternative to transportation fossil fuels.[22] Perennial rhizomatous grasses display several positive attributes as energy crops because of their high productivity, low (no) demand for nutrient inputs consequent to the recycling of nutrients by their rhizomes, exceptional soil carbon sequestration - 4X switchgrass, multiple products, adaptation to saline soils and saline water, and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses.

Giant reed is one of the most promising crops for energy production in the Mediterranean climate of Europe and Africa, where it has shown advantages as an indigenous crop (already adapted to the environment), durable yields, and resistant to long drought periods. Several field studies have highlighted the beneficial effect of giant reed crop on the environment due to its minimal soil tillage, fertilizer and pesticide needs. Furthermore, it offers protection against soil erosion,[23] one of the most important land degradation processes in Mediterranean and US environments. A. donax bioenergy feedstock has an impressive potential for several conversion processes. Dried biomass has a direct combustion high heating value of 3,400 kJ/kg (8,000 BTU/lb). In Italy, Arundo donax was used in one instance from 1937 to 1962 on a large-scale industrial basis for paper and dissolving pulp. This interest was stimulated primarily by the desire of the dictatorship, just before World War II, to be independent of foreign sources of textile fibers and the desire for an export product.[24] According to historic record made by Snia Viscosa, giant reed was established on 6 300 ha in Torviscosa (Udine), reaching the average annual production of 35 t ha−1.[25] Today several screening studies on energy crops have been carried out by several Universities in US as well as in EU to evaluate and identify best management practices for maximizing biomass yields and assess environmental impacts.


Establishment is a critical point of cultivation. Stem and rhizome have a great ability to sprout after removal from mother plant and both can be used for clonal propagation. The use of rhizomes were found to be the better propagation method for this species, achieving better survival rate.[26] In this field study, it was noticed how the lowest density (12 500 rhizomes ha−1) resulted in taller and thicker plants compared to denser plantation (25 000 rhizomes ha−1). Seedbed preparation is conducted in the spring, immediately before planting, by a pass with a double-disk harrowing and a pass with a field cultivator. Giant reed has the possibility of adopting low plant density. The rhizomes were planted at 10–20 centimetres (3.9–7.9 in) of soil depth, with a minimum plant density of 10 000 plants per ha), while mature stems, with two or more nodes, can be planted 10–15 centimetres (3.9–5.9 in) deep. In order to ensure good root stand and adequate contact with the soil, sufficient moisture is needed immediately after planting. Pre-plant fertilizer is distributed according to the initial soil fertility, but usually an application of P at a rate of 80–100 kilograms (180–220 lb) ha−1 is applied.

A. donax maintains a high productive aptitude without irrigation under semi-arid climate conditions. In South Italy, a trial was carried out testing the yields performance of 39 genotypes, and an average yields of 22.1 t ha−1 dry matter in the second year were reached,[27] a comparable result with others results obtained in Spain (22.5 t ha−1) as well as in South Greece (19.0 t ha−1). Several reports underlined that it is more economical to grow giant reed under moderate irrigation.

In order to evaluate different management practices, nitrogen fertilizer and input demand was evaluated in a 6-year field study conducted at the University of Pisa. Fertilizer enhanced the productive capacity in the initial years, but as the years go by and as the radical apparatus progressively deepens, the differences due to fertilizer decrease until disappearing. Harvest time and plant density were found to not affect the biomass yields.

Due to its high growth rate and superior resource-capture capacity (light, water and nutrients), A. donax is not affected by weed competition from the second year. An application of post-emergence treatment is usually recommended. Giant reed has few known disease or insect pest, but in intensive cultivation no pesticides are used.

To remove giant reed at the end of crop cycle, there are mainly two methods: mechanical or chemical.[28] An excavator can be useful to dig out the rhizomes or alternatively a single late-season application of 3% glyphosate onto the foliar mass is efficient and effective with least hazardous to biota.[29] Glyphosate was selected as the most appropriate product after specific considerations on efficacy, environmental safety, soil residual activity, operator safety, application timing, and cost-effectiveness. However, glyphosate is only effective in fall when plants are actively transporting nutrients to the root zone, and multiple retreatments are usually needed. Other herbicides registered for aquatic use can be very effective in controlling Arundo at other times of the year.


Arundo donax is a strong candidate for use as a renewable biofuel source because of its fast growth rate and its ability to grow in different soil types and climatic conditions. A. donax will produce an average of three kilograms of biomass per square metre (25 tons per acre)[clarification needed] once established.[30] The energy density of the biomass produced is 17 MJ/Kg regardless of fertilizer usage.[30] Outside its native range, this needs to be balanced against its major invasive potential.

Studies in the European Union have identified A. donax as the most productive and lowest impact of all energy biomass crops (see FAIR REPORT E.U. 2004).

Arundo donax's ability to grow for 20 to 25 years without replanting is also significant.

In the UK it is considered suitable for planting in and around water areas.[31]

Arundo donax grown in Australia was demonstrated as potential feedstock for producing advanced biofuels through hydrothermal liquefaction.[32]


Studies have found this plant to be rich in active tryptamine compounds, but there are more indications of the plants in India having these compounds than in the United States.[33] Toxins such as bufotenidine[34] and gramine[33] have also been found.

The dried rhizome with the stem removed has been found to contain 0.0057% DMT, 0.026% bufotenine, 0.0023% 5-MeO-MMT.[33] The flowers are also known to have DMT and the 5-methoxylated N-demethylated analogue, also 5-MeO-NMT. The quite toxic quaternary methylated salt of DMT, bufotenidine,[33] has been found in the flowers, and the cyclic dehydrobufotenidine has been found in the roots.[citation needed] A. donax is also known to release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mainly isoprene.[35]


Arundo donax has been cultivated throughout Asia, southern Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians wrapped their dead in the leaves. The canes contain silica, perhaps the reason for their durability, and have been used to make fishing rods, and walking sticks.[citation needed] Its stiff stems are also used as support for climbing plants or for vines.[citation needed]

This plant may have been used in combination with harmal (Peganum harmala) to create a brew similar to the South American ayahuasca, and may trace its roots to the Soma of lore.[36]


Mature reeds are used in construction as raw material, given their excellent properties and tubular shape. Its resemblance to bamboo permits their combination in buildings, though Arundo is more flexible.

In rural regions of Spain, for centuries there has existed a technique named cañizo, consisting of rectangles of approximately 2 by 1 meters of woven reeds to which clay or plaster could be added. A properly insulated cañizo in a roof could keep its mechanical properties for over 60 years. Its high silicon content allows the cane to keep its qualities through time. Its low weight, flexibility, good adherence of the cañizo fabric and low price of the raw material have been the main reasons that made this technique possible to our days. However, in the last decades the rural migration from countryside to urban centers and the extensive exploitation of land has substituted traditional crops. This has threatened very seriously its continuity.

Recently, initiatives are being taken to recover the use of this material, combining ancient techniques from southern Iraq mudhif (reed houses) with new materials.

Diverse associations and collectives, such as CanyaViva, are pioneering in the research in combination with Spanish universities.

Musical instrumentsEdit

A. donax is the principal source material of reed makers. The cane is rendered into reeds for clarinets, saxophones, oboes, bassoons, bagpipes, and other woodwind instruments.[37] The Var country in southern France contains the best-known supply of instrument reeds.

Additionally, giant reed has been used to make flutes for over 5,000 years. The pan pipes consist of ten or more pipes made from the cane. Also the ancient end-blown flute ney (nai) is made from the same reeds.

Other usesEdit

When young, A. donax is readily browsed by ruminants, but it becomes unpalatable when maturing.[38]



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General referencesEdit

  1. Alden, P., F. Heath, A. Leventer, R. Keen, W. B. Zomfler, eds. 1998. National Audubon Society Field Guide to California. Knopf, New York.
  2. Bell, G. P. 1997. Ecology and Management of Arundo donax, and approaches to riparian habitat restoration in southern California. In Plant Invasions: Studies from North America and Europe, eds. J. H. Brock, M. Wade, P. Pysêk, and D. Green. pp. 103–113. Backhuys, Leiden, the Netherlands.
  3. Boose, A. B., and J. S. Holt. 1999. Environmental effects on asexual reproduction in Arundo donax. Weeds Research 39: 117-127.
  4. Dudley, T. L. 2000. Noxious wildland weeds of California: Arundo donax. In: Invasive plants of California's wildlands. C. Bossard, J. Randall, & M. Hoshovsky (eds.).
  5. Herrera, A., and T. L. Dudley. 2003. Invertebrate community reduction in response to Arundo donax invasion at Sonoma Creek. Biol.Invas 5:167-177.
  6. Mackenzie, A. 2004. Giant Reed. In: The Weed Workers' Handbook. C. Harrington and A. Hayes (eds.)
  7. Miles, D. H., K. Tunsuwan, V. Chittawong, U. Kokpol, M. I. Choudhary, and J. Clardy. 1993. Boll weevil antifeedants from Arundo donax. Phytochemistry 34: 1277-1279.
  8. Perdue, R. E. 1958. Arundo donax – source of musical reeds and industrial cellulose. Economic Botany 12: 368-404.
  9. Scott, G. 1994. Fire threat from Arundo donax. pp. 17–18 in: November 1993 Arundo donax workshop proceedings, Jackson, N.E. P. Frandsen, S. Douthit (eds.). Ontario, CA.
  10. Tu, M., C. Hurd, and J. M. Randall. 2001. Weed Control Methods Handbook: Tools and Techniques for Use in Natural Areas. The Nature Conservancy.
  11. Excerpted from Chapter 15 of TIHKAL, 1997

External linksEdit