Melica nitens (Three-flowered Melic)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:perennial
  • State Threatened
Habitat:part shade, sun; dry to moist; rocky woods, wooded slopes, bluff prairies, savannas, along railroads
Fruiting season:June - July
Plant height:20 to 60 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

[photo of panicles] Open panicle 4 to 10 inches long, erect or sometimes nodding to one side, the branches widely separated, ascending to spreading to somewhat drooping, with 5 to 20 spikelets (flower clusters) per branch. Spikelets are slender-stalked, dangling on one side of the branch, oblong-elliptic in outline, flattened, 8 to 12+ mm (to ~½ inch) long, usually with 3 florets, occasionally 1, 2 or 4. A sterile floret may be at the tip.

[close-up of panicle branch] At the base of a spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes), both hairless, papery with transparent edging especially near the tip, blunt to rounded at the tip and shorter than the spikelet, the lower glume broadly egg-shaped, 5 to 9 mm long and 3 to 9-veined, the upper glume longer and narrower than the lower glume and 3 to 7-veined. Surrounding a floret is a pair of bracts (lemma and palea). Lemmas are lance-elliptic, thicker than the glumes, slightly longer than the upper glume, 9-veined or more, blunt to pointed at the tip, with transparent edging especially near the tip. The palea is about ¾ as long as the lemma, 2-veined with a fringe of fine hairs along the veins. Sterile florets are erect, 2 to 3 mm long, club-shaped.

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

[photo of sheath, ligule and node] Leaf blades are flat, 4 to 8 inches long, 3.5 to 12 mm (to ~½ inch) wide, the surfaces smooth to slightly rough or sometimes minutely hairy. Sheath edges are fused for most of their length (a closed sheath) and hairless, smooth to slightly rough. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is 1 to 6.5 mm long and lacks a fringe of hairs. Nodes are smooth. Stems are single or a few from the base in a loose clump, erect to ascending, and hairless.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature glumes, floret and grain] Florets mature to brown, the entire spikelet dropping off at maturity. Grains (seeds) are somewhat flattened, elliptic, about 2.5 mm long and brown.


Melica nitens is a rare grass in Minnesota, where it reaches the northern fringe of its range in the southeastern corner of the state, as of this writing known only from Houston and Fillmore counties. According to the DNR, it was first discovered along the Root River Valley in northeast Fillmore County in the early 1900s and not seen again until 1976, near Hokah in Houston County. The original populations were never relocated but four other populations were found during biological surveys in the 1990s, noted as primarily found along railroad rights-of-way that offered it some protection from agriculture and development. Those lands were subsequently sold and the loss of habitat became a much greater risk. It was listed as a Threatened species in 1984 and is currently Special Concern in Wisconsin. Its typical habitat is most often noted as rocky woods, often on steep slopes, which is the habitat we found it in.

Melica nitens is a very distinctive grass, not likely confused with any other species in Minnesota. The panicle has spreading branches and 5 to 20 dangling spikelets per branch, each spikelet usually with 3 florets and unequal glumes much shorter than the spikelet, the lower glume rather broader and distinctly shorter than the upper glume, and all of which lack awns. The sheath is closed near the tip and the entire spikelet drops off at maturity. Sterile florets, when present, are small, erect and do not resemble fertile florets. The related Melica mutica, not known to be in Minnesota but present in Iowa, is most similar, with only 2 to 5 spikelets per branch and sterile florets are strongly angled from the tip of the stalk (rachilla).

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Fillmore County. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Fillmore and Houston counties.


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