Canada Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis)

Two tan-colored, drooping grass seed heads.

NPS/Gordon Dietzman

Prairie Home


Wild rye is a perennial grass whose stems may grow between 2-5' tall. Blades are flat or folded, 4-12" long, slightly narrowed towards the base, tapering to a fine point, margins with fine teeth. The upper surface of the leaf is scabrous and the lower surface has a prominent midrib.

This grass prefers average to medium wet, well-drained soils in full or partial sun and in a wide range of soil types. It is easily grown from seed and self-seeds in optimum growing conditions.

Canada wild rye is considered an early "successional" grass and is often used as a cover crop in prairie and savanna restorations due to its ability to hold soil, protect prairie seedlings, and because it doesn't compete well with other prairie species. As a result, as other more slowly-developing prairie species begin to develop wild rye will begin to disappear from the planting.

Fascinating Facts

  • Also called "nodding wild rye" because the seed heads droop gracefully downward as they mature.
  • Many insects feed on it. Cottontail rabbits and several species of hoofed native animals will also graze it. Horses and cows also find it palatable, especially early in the year.
  • Canada wild rye, while having some limitations for food value, provides cover for many wildlife species, including nesting grassland birds.

Find It

Canada wild rye is often used as a "cover crop" in new prairie and savanna restorations, but tends to gradually disappear from prairies not subject to disturbance. Look for it in younger restorations.

Want to Help Us Better Understand the Park?

See our iNaturalist project, "The Life of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area" and contribute to it by downloading the iNaturalist app and uploading your sightings of this species, and others, to the project. You can also upload your sightings from your computer as well.

Last updated: February 28, 2018

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