Elymus hystrix (Bottlebrush Grass)

Plant Info
Also known as: Eastern Bottlebrush Grass
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; average to moist soil; hardwood or mixed forest, woodland edges, river banks, floodplains
Fruiting season:July - September
Plant height:2 to 5 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: raceme Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowering spikes] A single, loose spike at the tip of the stem, up to 8 inches long, usually erect, sometimes nodding. Spikelets (flower clusters) are usually in pairs, occasionally in 3s, alternately arranged along the central stalk, widely spreading to nearly perpendicular to the stalk. Spikelets are 1 to 2 inches long from tip to tip, each spikelet with 2 to 4 florets; the upper floret(s) may be sterile. Fertile florets have pale yellow stamens and a white, feathery style.

[photo of spikelet] At the base of a spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes), though one or both may be absent. Glumes are mostly reduced and bristle-like, up to 15mm (½ inch) long. At the base of a floret is a pair of bracts (lemma and palea). A fertile lemma is 8 to 11 mm long, smooth, rough textured or finely hairy on the surface, the tip extending into a straight awn up to 1½ inches long. Sterile lemmas are smaller than fertile lemmas, with short awns. Paleas are similar in size and shape as the lemmas but lack the awns and are mostly blunt at the tip.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are evenly spaced all along the stem, blue-green to gray-green, flat and mostly floppy, the lower up to 12 inches long and up to about ½ inch wide, the uppermost shorter and slightly stiffer. Surfaces are hairless to sparsely hairy.

[photo of sheath, ligule and node] The sheath is open, forming a long “V” at the front, is usually hairless, sometimes sparsely hairy. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is about 1 mm long, straight or ragged along the top edge. Often, at the edge of the sheath where it meets the ligule is an oblong lobe (auricle). Sheaths, ligules and auricles are often purplish brown. Nodes are hairless, green to purplish, sometimes with a white, waxy bloom. Stems are hairless, unbranched, typically erect, single or a few from the base forming small, loose clumps.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature spikelets] Spikelets turn light brown with age, the mature florets falling off individually, leaving any glumes behind.


Bottlebrush Grass is a tall, shade-tolerant grass and does very well in a home garden. The unique spike arrangement makes it easily recognizable. Two varieties are recognized in some references, differentiated by hairy or smooth lemmas and leaves, though they aren't distinguished in Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Wild River State Park, Chisago County, and in her garden in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Ramsey County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Martha O - South Maplewood, Ramsey County
on: 2017-07-11 18:25:46

found in a 5 acre oak savannah remnant wood lot on our townhouse association property

Posted by: Joe S - St Paul Battle Creek Park (West)
on: 2017-07-14 16:52:50

This unusual but beautiful spike seems rare in the wild. Just noticed it today in the woods.

Posted by: Kenny h - Shooting Star Scenic By way West of LeRoyver
on: 2017-07-24 12:22:49

Very unique grass...I like this one...in Lake Louise State Park, LeRoy Mn.

Posted by: Dan W - Otter Tail County
on: 2022-09-03 10:58:21

Growing on our south facing hillside.

Posted by: Ron Johannsen - Trenton Lake
on: 2023-07-17 17:52:00

Good year for this plant many all along the trail.

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