Danthonia spicata (Poverty Grass)

Plant Info
Also known as: Poverty Oat-grass
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist to dry sandy or rocky soil; fields, savannas, pine stands, bluffs, rocky shores
Fruiting season:July - August
Plant height:8 to 30 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
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: raceme

[photo of panicle] Loose, erect, raceme-like branching cluster at the top of the stem, up to 2 inches long, the branches erect to spreading at flowering becoming more erect in fruit. Branches typically have a single spikelet (flower cluster), occasionally 2 on lower branches. Spikelets are short-stalked, 10 to 13 mm (~3/8 to ½ inch) long, slightly flattened, narrowly lance-elliptic in outline and have 4 to 9 florets; the terminal floret may be underdeveloped.

[close-up of spikelet] At the base of a spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes), both alike, thin and papery, hairless, narrowly lance-shaped tapering to a pointed tip, 10 to 13 mm long, 3 to 5-veined, and longer than the group of florets. Florets are surrounded by a pair of bracts (lemma and palea), the lemma thicker than the glumes, 5-veined, sparsely long-hairy, the body 3.5 to 5 mm long, notched and forming 2 pointed teeth at the tip with an awn arising from between the teeth, the awn 5 to 7 mm long and initially straight but becoming bent in the lower half and spirally twisted below the bend; the palea is 2-veined, about as long as the lemma body, blunt at the tip with a fringe of short hairs round the edges. The thickened base of the floret is flanked by tufts of short, white hairs. Arising from the base and running along the palea is a short, hairless stalk (rachilla extension).

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

[photo of leaf and sheath hairs] Leaves are basal and alternate but mostly near the base except for 1 or 2 leaves farther up the stem. Upper leaves are erect, up to 2 inches long, usually hairless and flat. Lower leaves are up to 6 inches long, up to 3 mm (about 1/8 inch) wide, usually rolled in along the edge (involute), least sparsely long-hairy on both surfaces, usually becoming curly with age. Old leaves may persist to the next season.

[photo of sheath, ligule and node] Sheaths are thin and whitish along the edges, with a tuft of long white hairs on each side at the tip. Lower sheaths are variably covered in fine, spreading hairs; upper sheaths are often hairless. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is a fringe of hairs up to 1 mm long. Nodes are smooth. Stems are erect, short-hairy below the nodes, smooth above, usually multiple from the base and forming dense clumps. Self-fertile, bud-like flowers (cleistogamous) may develop in the lower sheaths.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[close-up of mature floret and grain] Spikelets are light green to whitish at maturity, the florets shedding individually as each grain matures, leaving the glumes behind on the stalk. Grains (seeds) are brown and about 2 mm long.


Poverty Grass is a common grass of sandy or rocky soils in open deciduous and Jack pine forest, trail edges, hillsides, gravel pits, rocky ledges, outcrops and bluffs, and on the rocky north shore of Lake Superior. It is a variable species, with the degree of hairiness, curling of basal leaves, spreading of panicle branches and extensiveness of cleistogamy at least partially determined by the amount of light and/or moisture. Specimens in shadier or wetter habitats may be hairier with less curly leaves than those in more open, drier spaces. The persistent, curly leaf clump can be diagnostic even early in the season when flowering stems are not present. Poverty Grass is similar to Avenula species, which have lemma about twice as long, and their ligules are long and membranous, not a fringe of hairs.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Carlton, Lake, St. Louis counties and in his garden in Ramsey County.


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

Posted by: Robert Tollefson - Northern Wright County
on: 2022-01-17 07:42:18

First off, I really appreciate your website. It is one of the most useful on the web. I also have the app. I realized we have this species growing in our yard, which historically was an old pasture. It is growing on the top of two hills and south-facing slopes. Soil is a mix of sand, gravel and loam, surrounded by oaks.

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