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Perennial, rhizomatous or tufted, tall, reed-lik grass. Culms robust up to 7 m tall.  Leaf-blades linear, ligule a ciliolate membrane, leaf-sheaths rounded. Inflorescence a plume-like panicle, racemes numerous, disarticulating, bearing paired similar spikelets, one sessile, one pedicelled. Spikelets lanceolate, disarticulation below glumes, pedicellate spikelets enveloped in long silky hairs; lower glume 2-keeled; upper glume boat-shaped; lower floret sterile, upper floret perfect; lemma lanceolate, shorter than spikelets, hyaline, awnless or awned; paleas rarely absent. Lodicules 2, cuneate. Stamens 3. Caryopsis subglobose to oblong.

Key to the species

Serial Key Reference
1a. Panicle golden brown, or copper-brown to purplish-brown 2
1b. Panicle otherwise 3
2a. Panicle golden brown; spikelets 4-6 mm long, oblong-lanceolate S. longisetosum
2b. Panicle copper-brown to purplish-brown; spikelets 2.5- 3.0 mm long, oblong S. narenga
3a. Peduncle hairy below the panicle; rachis very fragile. Hairs white-silvery S. spontaneum
3b. Peduncle not hairy; rachis less fragile 4
4a. Lower glume of sessile spikelet glabrous (upper glume also glabrous); callus hairs much longer than spikelet S. officinarum
4b. Lower glume of sessile spikelet with long hairs; callus hairs equal to or shorter than spikelet 5
5a. Upper glume of sessile spikelet villous; panicles creamy-white; often interrupted S. griffithii
5b. Upper glume of sessile spikelet glabrous; panicles silvery or grey 6
6a. Rachis internodes 3-5 mm long; upper lemma mucronate or with awn 3 mm long; culms 1.5 - 4 (-6) m tall S. arundinaceuun
6b. Rachis internodes 6-7 mm long; upper lemma awnless; culms up to 7 m tall S. procera