Long-Awned Wood Grass
Brachyelytrum erectum
Grass family (Poaceae)

Description: This native perennial grass is 1-2' tall, more or less erect, and unbranched. The culm of each plant is light to medium green, terete, and mostly hairless. However, the swollen nodes and areas of the culm directly underneath them are densely covered with fine silky hairs (they are villous). Several alternate leaves occur along the length of each culm. The flat leaf blades are up to 6" long and ¾" across; they are dull medium green, tapering gradually at both their bases and tips. The upper surface of each blade is hairless, while the lower surface is slightly hairy. The leaf sheaths are dull medium green and sparsely pubescent, becoming hairy toward their apices; they are shorter than the internodes (length of the culm between two nodes).

Each fertile culm terminates in a narrow inflorescence about 3-6" long, consisting of a panicle of floral spikelets. The slender branches of this panicle are ascending or appressed against the central stalk (rachis); they terminate in single-flowered spikelets. Each spikelet consists of a pair of tiny glumes at the base, a single lemma about 10 mm. long (excluding its awn), and an inner palea enclosing the floret. The palea is nearly as long as the lemma, and it is held in place by a thread-like extension of the lateral branch (rachilla). The curved lemma is linear-oblong with several longitudinal veins; these veins have fine hairs. The awn of the lemma is 10-25 mm. long and straight. The blooming period occurs during the summer; the florets are cross-pollinated by the wind. Afterwards, the inflorescence turns brown. The large grains are linear-oblong in shape. The root system is rhizomatous and fibrous. Small colonies of plants are often produced by the rhizomes.

Cultivation: The preference is light shade, mesic conditions, and soil containing loam, sandy loam, or some rocky material.

Range & Habitat: Long-Awned Wood Grass is uncommon to occasional throughout Illinois (see Distribution Map). Habitats are moist to slightly dry deciduous woodlands. This grass is found primarily in high quality woodlands, rather than those with a history of disturbance.

Faunal Associations: Little is known about floral-faunal relationships for this grass. The caterpillars of the butterfly Enodia anthedon (Northern Pearly Eye) feed on the foliage. Because the awns of the lemmas can stick to fur, mammals probably help to distribute the seeds.

Photographic Location: A sandy wooded area near the Heron Boardwalk in Vermillion County. The photographs were taken during the early fall.

Comments: Long-Awned Woodland Grass is one of the more unusual woodland grasses that is not often described. It somewhat resembles one of the woodland Bromus spp. (Brome Grasses), but its spikelets are single-flowered. Both the lemmas and awns are unusually long. Because the foliage is quite attractive and persists through the summer, Long-Awned Woodland Grass should be cultivated more often. Other common names of this grass are False Brome and Bearded Short Husk.