Schizachne purpurascens (False Melic Grass)

Plant Info
Also known as: Purple Oat Grass
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade; average to dry rocky or sandy soil; open woods, grasslands
Fruiting season:June - July
Plant height:15 to 30 inches
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: Cluster type: panicle Cluster type: spike

[photo of spikes] Flowering cluster is initially erect, soon nodding, 2½ to 5 inches long, with 5 to 10 spikelets (flower clusters) alternately attached on the upper stem in a loose raceme, sometimes with a few branches. Spikelets are ½ to 1 inch (1.5-2.5 cm) long tip to tip, somewhat flattened with 3 to 5 florets, on a stalk ¼ to about as long as the spikelet. One or more florets at the tip may be sterile.

[photo of spikelet] At the base of a spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes) that are thin, lance-elliptic, pointed at the tip, obscurely veined, typically purple tinged with white edging, the lower glume 3 to 6 mm long, the upper glume 5 to 8 mm long. Surrounding a floret are a pair of bracts (lemma and palea), the lemma lance-elliptic, deeply notched at the tip, 8 to 11 mm long, 5 to 7-nerved, green or purplish, the edges thin and papery. Arising from between the notch teeth is an awn about as long as the lemma body, initially straight becoming somewhat spreading with maturity. The palea is a little more than half as long as the lemma with a fringe of hairs along the keel. Around the base of the floret is a tuft of hairs. Sterile florets are similar to fertile florets, but underdeveloped.

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

[photo of leaf] Leaves are mostly near the base, up to 8 inches long, 1/8 inch or less wide, the upper surface hairless or with a few sparse hairs, the lower surface hairless. Blades are flat, folded lengthwise, or rolled up some along the edges.

[photo of sheath, ligule and node] The sheath edges are fused at the front for most of their length (a closed sheath), the front papery thin and splitting before too long. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is a loose, thin, membranous band 1.5 to 2.5 mm long, typically longer on the ends than the middle and jagged along the top edge. Nodes are hairless and green to purplish. Stems are erect to ascending, hairless, multiple from the base, forming clumps.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature spikelets with spreading awns] Spikelets turn light brown brown at maturity, the florets shedding as each grain matures, the glumes left behind and persisting on the stalk.

[photo of fruit] Grains are a dark reddish brown, elliptic, about 3.5 mm long.


False Melic Grass is a slender, graceful species commonly found in open woods and conifer forests in about 2/3 of Minnesota. It is distinguished by the nodding spikes, purplish glumes, strongly veined lemmas cleft at the tip and awns about as long as the lemma body, hairs along the palea keel and around the base of a floret, and closed sheath, though it tends to split before too long.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in her garden in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties.


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