Elymus wiegandii (Wiegand's Wild Rye)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; averate to moist soil; rich woods, floodplain forest, river banks, forest openings
Fruiting season:July - September
Plant height:4 to 6.5 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
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: spike

[photo of spikes] A single thick spike 4 to 12 inches long at the tip of the stem, drooping from near the base, with a group of 2 or 3 erect to ascending spikelets (flower clusters) at each node. Each spikelet is 12 to 20 mm long (excluding awns) and usually has 4 to 6 florets, occasionally 3 or 7; the uppermost 1 or 2 florets may be sterile. Color is commonly pale blue-green at flowering time.

[close-up of spikelet] At the base of a spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes), both firm, hairless to variously hairy, the hairs short and stiff or long and silky, 1 to 3-veined, narrowly oblong-elliptic tapering at the tip to a straight awn about as long as the body, .4 to .9 mm wide, 12 to 30 mm (to 1+ inch) long including the awn, the base somewhat hardened, slightly narrowed, more or less straight and not distinctly bowed. Florets are surrounded by a pair of bracts (lemma and palea), the lemma usually hairy, 5-veined, the body 10 to 15 mm long with a straight awn 15 to 30 mm long; the palea is slightly shorter than the lemma, hairless, minutely notched at the tip.

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

[photo of leaves] The 9 to 16 leaves are alternate, up to 14 inches long, 10 to 24 mm (~1 inch) wide, mostly flat, usually arching, fairly evenly distributed along the stem, and often sparsely long-hairy though may become hairless.

[photo of sheath, ligule and node] The sheath is hairless, occasionally with a few long hairs, and has a pair of small brown to purplish lobes (auricles) at the apex. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is up to 1 mm long, more or less straight across, and lacks a fringe of hairs. Nodes are hairless and mostly hidden in the sheaths. Stems are unbranched, smooth, erect, single or multiple from the base, forming loose to dense clumps. The whole plant may be variously covered in a waxy bloom (glaucus), giving a bluish tint.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature glume, florets and grain] The awns may remain relatively straight or bend or curve outward as spikelets mature, all turning a light brown when dry. Florets drop off individually as they mature, leaving the glumes behind on the stalk. Grains (seeds) are elliptic, purplish-brown, and have a tuft of white hairs at the tip.


There are 10 Elymus species in Minnesota (not counting vars/subspecies); Wiegand's Wild Rye is one of the less common and was once considered a form of Canada Wild Rye (E. canadensis). It is found in sandy or gravelly soils, along river banks and forest openings such as trail edges and roadsides. Except for an undated record (likely 1890s) from Minneapolis, its range in the state is in the northern half, but its presence in Iowa and Wisconsin would make it possibly present in southern Minnesota as well, possibly along the Root or Canon Rivers. It may well be under-reported in the state.

Elymus wiegandii is distinguished by its tall (to 6+ ft) leafy stems, broad leaves, and long, thick spike drooping from near the base. It has 2 or 3 spikelets per node; 4 to 6 florets per spikelet; hairy lemmas; glumes and lemmas both long-awned; both glumes hairless or not, nearly equal in size, .4 to .9 mm wide and hardened but essentially straight at the base, not bowed; florets drop off above the glumes; plants often somewhat glaucus; 9 to 16 arching leaves to 20+ mm wide that may have a few long, silky hairs, though the hairs may not persist.

There are several Elymus species with nodding spikes that may be confused with E. wiegandii; Interrupted Wild Rye (Elymus diversiglumis) has glumes that are distinctly unequal in length and less than .5 mm wide, leaf nodes that are mostly exposed and is less likely to be glaucous; Silky Wild Rye (Elymus villosus) has hairy glumes, lemmas, sheaths and leaves; Canada Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis) is a smaller plant (commonly 3 to 4 ft tall), usually fewer than 8 leaves that are firm and 10 to 15 mm wide, spikes are slightly nodding to arching, widest glumes at least 1 mm wide; Riverbank Wild Rye (Elymus riparius) usually has 2 spikelets per node, 2 or 3 florets per spikelet, and leaves 8 to 15 mm wide.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Becker County and in her garden. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Fillmore County.


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

Posted by: Deane Johnson - Itasca State Park
on: 2020-12-03 00:09:34

Plant was on Nicollet Trail, about a mile south of Wilderness Drive. ID confirmed

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