Elymus canadensis (Canada Wild Rye)

Plant Info
Also known as: Nodding Wild Rye
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist to dry; sandy prairies, dunes, woodland edges, roadsides
Fruiting season:July - August
Plant height:1 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: panicle Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] Thick spike cluster at the top of the stem, typically nodding or drooping, made up of numerous smaller clusters (spikelets) of 3 to 5 flowers each, with usually 2 or 3 spikelets at a node. The 2 bracts (glume) at the base of a spikelet are about equal in length, rough around the edges, with 2 to 4 nerves, about 1/16 inch wide and tapering at the tip to a straight awn. Including the awn, length is up to 1¼ inch with the awn about as long as the body. The 2 bracts (lemma) surrounding a flower are rough hairy and taper to an awn up to 2 inches long that is initially straight and ascending but becomes spreading and curved as seed develops. All are typically blue-green and covered with a waxy bloom (glaucous). Stamens are creamy white and poke out between the lemma. Spikes are 4 to 10 inches long and about ¾ inch in diameter, not counting the awns.

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

[photo of stem leaves] There is a small tuft of basal leaves that mostly wither away by fruiting time. Stem leaves are alternate, up to 12 inches long and 2/3 inch wide, flat, rough around the edges and sometimes on the upper surface, fairly evenly distributed along the stem, and usually ascending but often floppy in the upper half. The underside of the leaf is covered in a waxy bloom, giving a bluish tint.

[photo of sheath and ligule] Leaves are mostly clasping with a distinct collar (auricles) at the tip of sheath that is brown to purplish around the edge. The sheath edges overlap and wrap around the stem. A papery membrane (ligule) at the base of the leaf where it meets the stem is very short and quickly turns brown. Some leaf nodes are exposed but most are covered by the sheaths. Stems are single or a few from the base, smooth and erect or leaning.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of fruit] The lemmas turn light tan when seeds are ripe and easily pull away, while the glumes remain attached to the stem. Awns become spreading and somewhat bent or curved.


There are 9 Elymus species in Minnesota (not counting subspecies), but E. canadensis is the most common native of the bunch in Minnesota and probably the most common native of the genus in North America, present in all but a few states in the southeastern U.S. Similar is Virginia Wild Rye (Elymus virginicus) which has shorter, more slender spikes with shorter awns that stay mostly erect. Also similar is Interrupted Wild Rye (Elymus diversiglumis) which has glumes that are usually unequal in length, leaf nodes that are mostly exposed and is less likely to have the waxy bloom (glaucous). And Downy Wild Rye (Elymus villosus) has long hairs on the glumes, awns and leaves. There are 3 recognized varieties of E. canadensis but only var. canadensis is present in Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Itasca County.


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