Eriochloa villosa (Hairy Cupgrass)

Plant Info
Also known as: Woolly Cupgrass
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:annual
  • Weedy
Habitat:part shade, sun; disturbed soil; agricultural fields, roadsides, waste areas, woodland edges, outcrops
Fruiting season:August - September
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: panicle Cluster type: raceme

[photo of raceme-like panicle] Raceme-like branching cluster 2½ to 5 inches long at the top of the stem, the 2 to 9 branches each 1½ to 2¾ inches long, on very short stalks. Branches are all arranged on one side of the stem and erect to spreading, but mostly ascending. The central branch stalk (rachis) is densely hairy with 11 to 24 spikelets (flower clusters) all arranged on the underside of the rachis, packed in 2 rows. Spikelets are 4 to 5 mm (less than ¼ inch) long, 2 to 2.5 mm wide, oval-elliptic, slightly flattened, and have one fertile and one sterile floret though appear to be single-flowered. Spikelets are green to purplish brown. The spikelet stalk is densely covered in long, white hairs and has a yellowish cup-shaped structure at the tip.

[close-up of panicle branch] At the base of a spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes), the lower glume obscure and scale-like or absent altogether, the upper glume oval-elliptic, thin and papery, 3.4 to 5 mm long and as long as the spikelet, 5-veined, lacking a keel, and covered in fine, soft hairs. Florets are surrounded by a pair of bracts (lemma and palea), the sterile lemma much like the upper glume and appearing to be the second glume; the sterile palea is absent. The fertile lemma and palea are both thicker than the glume, oval-elliptic with a minute point at the tip (mucronate), about as long as or slightly shorter than the upper glume, awnless, veinless, hairless; the lemma edges curl around the floret and the palea edges.

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

[photo of lower leaves] Leaves are alternate, erect to ascending, 4 to 8 inches long, about ¼ to ½ inch (5 to 13mm) wide, lance-linear with a long taper to a pointed tip, flat, minutely hairy on both surfaces, rough textured along the edges and typically minutely crinkled along one edge, especially near the base.

[photo of sheath, ligule and node] Sheath are hairless to variably hairy, often hairy along one edge. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is a fringe of white hairs up to 1.3 mm long. Stems are leafy, hairless except in the flower clusters, multiple from the base forming loose clumps, erect or more often prostrate from the base but rising at a lower node (geniculate), and may root at the nodes forming colonies.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[close-up of spikelet and floret] Spikelets are green to purplish at maturity, the entire spikelet dropping off leaving the hairy stalk behind. Grains (seeds) are oval-elliptic, 3 to 4 mm long.


Hairy Cupgrass was unintentionally introduced from Asia as a seed contaminant and has been considered primarily an agricultural weed of the midwest. It made its way to Minnesota in the late 1960s, first recorded in a corn field in Blue Earth County. While the official records indicate it is not very widespread in the state, it is very much an under-reported species and we've been told by a DNR ecologist that it is becoming a significant pest plant in certain high quality habitats, describing it as the “Reed Canary Grass of rock outcrops”. Though it is an annual and does not produce the dense mat of perennial rhizomes RCG does, it can root at the nodes and create a similarly dense stand. In a sensitive areas like rock outcrops where topsoil is thin and sparse, it can consume large swaths of the available soil and crowd out native plants. Hairy Cupgrass is not likely to be confused with other grasses: the hairy leaves, ligules and nodes, raceme-like cluster with 3 to 9 branches all on one side of the stem, hairy rachis with 2 rows of single-flowered, oval-elliptic, awnless spikelets 4 to 5mm long, finely hairy glumes, spikelet stalks covered long, white hairs, and the mature spikelets dropping of in their entirety are a pretty unique combination.

Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓

Map of native plant resources in the upper midwest

  • Out Back Nursery
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at!
  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds
  • Morning Sky Greenery - Native Prairie Plants
  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey and Renville counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Dakota, Washington and Winona counties.


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

Posted by: Holly B - Dakota county/ SW Burnsville
on: 2017-08-20 16:28:45

Disappointed to find out it is from Asia. Thank you for your website

Posted by: Heather M - Winona
on: 2017-09-26 12:34:58

I think this may have popped up along a corn field at the house I'm living at. It has an almost blue look to it, and I thought it was very pretty. I'm a little sad to find out it isn't native. I do have pictures if you'd be interested.

Posted by: Kate R - Minneapolis
on: 2019-08-14 15:38:30

Found this cupgrass growing at my new house! Seeds look much rounder than the prairie cupgrass, and the panicles are easy to identify.

Posted by: Jennifer Turnquist - Arden Hills
on: 2019-09-05 19:04:13

My backyard neighbor has a bunch of this and yellow foxtail (just like the picture above!) in a section of his backyard.

Posted by: Kimberly E. - Cottonwood County
on: 2019-09-26 16:00:41

Found growing on Cottonwood Lake WPA in Cottonwood County

Posted by: Ann M Harste - Bloomington
on: 2020-08-10 13:27:49

We are trying to eradicate it from our backyard prairie, but it is proving difficult.

Posted by: Rhyan - lac qui parle county
on: 2020-09-11 15:05:46

Found a group of this species along a railroad track in Dawson. Had never seen it before, it sticks out pretty well now when the hairiness is showing on the stalk as some seeds have dropped. Interesting species.

Posted by: Greg Kleen - Carver country - West edge - Mcleod is across the street
on: 2021-08-05 10:26:26

showed up in my food plot two years ago. didn't pay much attention to it. drought seems to have killed off the sorghum I planted but the 4 acre field has a great deal of this grass in it. open to advice on what my next move should be.

Posted by: Don ellwanger - Eastern two otter tail co
on: 2023-09-17 22:31:16

Lived here 53 years frist time have found any had use your site find out what is was only in one small area this year on idea where it came from!

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.